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90-year-old stays young by helping elderly

November 30, 1997

90-year-old stays young by helping elderly

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Even when she was a young child, Mary House wanted to help older people.

She recalled how she always enjoyed visiting a woman in her neighborhood. House said she would scrub the woman's floors and do other chores, while the woman taught her crochet and other crafts.

"I still, to this day, like to be around elderly people and help them," said House, sitting in the lobby at the Washington County Commission on Aging's Public Square offices.

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But these days House finds herself helping "older" people who are often younger than her 90 years. Several times a week, whenever she is needed, she can be called on by the Commission on Aging to do everything from mailing envelopes for local nonprofit groups to visiting elderly people at their homes.

"I look at it this way: There are people who can't get out, and I can," said House, who has lived in Hagerstown most of her life.

She certainly has no problem with that. Despite suffering a broken knee last year, House can make her way almost anywhere - be it cleaning her Frederick Street home or catching a bus downtown for her volunteer work.

"My son said I'm too independent," she said, smiling.

In all, House has nine children, as well as nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

"But I can't win with nine in bingo," she said with a laugh.

More seriously, she told of working two full-time jobs to raise her children and how she later worked for 27 years in various nursing aide and housekeeping jobs at Washington County Hospital and the Western Maryland Center.

She began volunteering after she retired at age 68, wanting to find something to keep her busy as well as fulfill her desire to help others.

"If I can do something for someone, then I'm happy," House said.

She enjoys visiting residents at nursing homes, but said it is hard to do so because budget cuts forced the discontinuation of a van that would drive her and other volunteers to the homes.

"It upsets me because (the residents) keep looking for us," she said.

Loneliness is one of the biggest things a volunteer helps to combat, she said. House recalled one woman she knew for years from helping with daily tasks to bringing supper when the woman was in a nursing home.

House said she also likes to visit people staying in the hospital, something that came from her experience in the hospitals where she often heard cries from patients that they were alone or that no one loved them.

When she isn't volunteering somewhere, House said she enjoys spending time with her family and making ceramics. One of her favorite pasttimes is playing bingo.

The broken knee slowed her down just a bit last year, but she said she was out of her home - against doctor's orders - and back at the bingo hall a day after the cast was put on.

She said her health is pretty good except for high blood pressure. She said she takes a vitamin E pill and a garlic tablet each day, and just wants to keep helping others.

"I have no plans for staying home," House said.

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