County's oldest resident dies at 108

March 13, 1998


Staff Writer

Sarah Katherine "Kittie" Jennings, who is believed to have been Washington County's oldest resident, died Wednesday. She was 108.

A farmer's wife, Jennings lived an active life filled with hard work and loving family, according to those who knew her well.

"She never got old. She was always active," said her 80-year-old daughter, Anna Estelle Smith. "The last four years, she had declined, but she would still say, 'I don't know why I can't do what I like to do.'"

Smith said she felt fortunate that her mother, who lived with her in Clear Spring since 1986, lived so long. During a recent visit to the hospital, Smith recalled having trouble finding her mother's room.


When a nurse offered assistance, Smith said she told her she was looking for her mother.

"My daughter-in-law joked that she must have thought I was really confused," Smith said.

Born in Fairplay on Nov. 25, 1889, Jennings spent most of her life on a farm, churning butter, milking cows by hand, and canning and preserving food that she sold door-to-door.

Jennings attended school until eighth grade and was often teased about her nickname, Kittie. Smith recalled her mother telling her that boys with dead rats would chase her shouting, "Here, kitty."

The oldest of seven children, Jennings was like a mother to her siblings, Smith said.

Family members said Jennings held true to basic values and preferred a simple life. She sewed quilts, jackets and other clothing on a peddle sewing machine she received when she got married in 1915.

Jennings used that same machine the rest of her life, shunning more modern models.

"I think someone demonstrated one to her once, and she said, oh, no, her machine was better for her," Smith said.

It was typical for a woman who came of age before electricity, cars and radios were common conveniences, family members said.

"Everything is different now Things are getting worse all the time," Jennings once said.

Her grandchildren remembered Jennings as a close to perfect woman who was exceedingly generous.

Bob Jennings, 44, one of her triplet grandchildren, said she brought quilts and jackets as presents when he was a child.

"Toys and those things would have meant more," he said. "(But) as I got older, I got to appreciate those things."

Family members said Jennings also was a talented and prolific cook. Grandson John Smith recalled holidays like Christmas and Easter.

"She'd have the biggest banquet you could ever imagine," he said. "It was so much, you couldn't get it all on your plate if you took a little bit of each."

Growing up on a farm, John Smith said he read books that described grandmothers dressed in aprons with their hair in buns.

"And that's the way she was," he said. "She was like a storybook grandma."

Family members recalled her stories of the Great Depression and other major events of the 20th century. Anna Estelle Smith said her mother was married before she ever rode in a car. It was 1915, when she and her husband took a train to Nebraska.

"For me to think back to a time when you'd be living with no cars, it just seems impossible," John Smith said.

Jennings said in a newspaper article that she tried to drive once: "I drove two miles and when I turned into the driveway I didn't know how to stop and I touched the garage. My husband threw back his head and laughed."

Family members said Jennings often attributed her longevity to her hard work and active lifestyle. She ate grease sandwiches during the Depression but kept fit churning butter, gardening and peddling her sewing machine, they said.

Jennings also had an aversion to soda, drinking it only once - during a trip in which water was not available.

Bob Smith said his grandmother took daily doses of a mysterious elixir she called "spirits of ammonia." When a doctor inquired about it, Jennings asked if she should stop.

The doctor said no. "I want to get some for myself," Smith recalled the doctor saying.

Jennings's husband, Wilbur, died on March 11, 1969. She died on the same day, 29 years later.

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