Clean living helps woman live 107 years

November 25, 1996


Staff Writer

Benjamin Harrison was president when Sarah Katherine "Miss Kitty" Jennings was born on Nov. 25, 1889.

Nineteen chief executives later, Jennings received a note from President Bill Clinton congratulating her on her 107th birthday, which is today.

Jennings, whose smooth skin and bright eyes belie her remarkable longevity, lives with her 79-year-old widowed daughter, Anna Estelle Smith, on Old National Pike outside of Clear Spring.

Four years ago, on her 103rd birthday, the family took Jennings to Finley's Restaurant, which had a policy of subtracting a percentage, based on the celebrant's age, from the birthday bill, Smith said.


"She got a little bit back," Smith said.

Jennings may well be the oldest Washington County resident.

A quick survey of a few of the larger nursing homes in Washington County didn't turn up anyone as old.

Meg Cliber, marketing director at Williamsport Retirement Village that founded National Centenarians Day and hosts an event each year to honor local centenarians, said if Jennings is not the oldest resident than "she's definitely one of the oldest."

Jennings grew up the oldest of five boys and two girls in the Coffman family. "I lived the longest. They're all gone but me," she said.

Her last sibling, a brother, died at age 96 two years ago, Smith said.

Jennings attributes her family's history of longevity to clean living.

"They didn't drink or smoke or anything like that. They ate their meals regular and worked hard. They went to bed early and got a good night's rest. They weren't running around half the night," she said.

Still, Jennings said, her parents "weren't too old" when they died - her mother was 91 and her father, 85.

Her family lived between Fairplay and Tilghmanton, Jennings said.

Her grandfather was a shoe and boot maker and her father was a farmer.

She went through the eighth grade in a four-room schoolhouse and married, at age 25 on Feb. 17, 1915, a farmer from Brownsville named Wilbur Jennings, she said. He traveled 14 miles in a horse and buggy to court her.

"I promised my parents I wasn't going to get married until I was 25," Jennings said.

They had one daughter, Smith, and five grandchildren, including a set of triplets.

The grandchildren range in age from 46 to 43 and the nine great-grandchildren run from 25 years to 19 months old.

Jennings helped her husband with the farm, milking cows and tending to the chickens, she said. She never learned to drive a car.

"I took the wheel one day...I drove two miles," Jennings recalled. "I forgot how to stop the car."

"I never tried after that but I'm sorry I didn't," she said. "I think I could have got along all right."

The biggest change she said she's seen in her lifetime was "from the horse way of farming to tractors."

Wilbur Jennings was a conscientious objector during World War I, Smith said. The family belonged to the pacifist Church of the Brethren.

After the deprivation of the Depression, World War II brought rationing.

"You couldn't have much gas. You had to be awful careful what you used it for," Jennings said. "You could only have so much sugar a week or a month . . . It was pretty bad."

Jennings wasn't very impressed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "I didn't like him as much as I liked some of them because I'm a Republican," she declared.

After her husband's death in 1969 at age 85, Jennings lived in a first-floor apartment in a house on South Mulberry Street, with her sister living above her and her brother and sister-in-law next door, Smith said.

When her brother decided to move to Fahrney-Keedy Home Jennings, at age 96, she decided she didn't want to go to a home and so instead moved in with Smith, her daughter said.

Age has imposed limitations on Jennings, including some hearing loss, but she complains most about not being able to work.

"I don't have any wants. I'm not able to work now or do anything," Jennings said. "Now they're just waiting on me . . . I don't like just sitting around doing nothing."

The grandchildren take turns stopping by to help, Smith said.

Jennings had to give up her beloved quilt-making because of poor eyesight, but she enjoys listening to audio tapes of church services and hymns, Smith said.

Jennings advises younger people to avoid smoking and drinking.

"I got along for 107 years without either one of those," she said.

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