At 90, she's still 100 percent

April 13, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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When Sarah Poffenberger turned 90 earlier this month, her relatives and friends celebrated her birthday, and a life of simple service.

Poffenberger doesn't think there's much special about her days on this Earth, but those who know her do. "She's amazing," said Alma Grams, one of Poffenberger's two daughters.

Poffenberger recently talked about her life at her home in Halfway. With her were Grams, "adopted" daughter Phyllis Alexander and one of her three sisters, 83-year-old Ida Miller. Her husband Leonard died in 1980.


Poffenberger is a lesson in independence. She still drives, and takes people to church on Sundays who couldn't otherwise go. "I have a spotless (driving) record," she said.

She trims her own hedges, and if she feels like mowing the grass before her son-in-law gets around to it, she does. She was working on the carport a couple weeks ago when she fell off a ladder and landed on the cement floor. "I got up and I said, 'Thank you, Lord' because I could walk," Poffenberger said. The fall? "It wasn't anything," she said.

Even though she said she's slowed down a bit, Poffenberger has never been one to let grass grow under her feet. She's a church Deaconess, and until recently visited shut-ins as a matter of routine. She also has helped care for the sick. When she was younger, she worked several part-time jobs.

Poffenberger grew up on a farm at Bloody Lane on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, where she and her sisters churned butter, made soap and did other chores.

"I remember when I was a baby, my mother would put me out on Bloody Lane. She told me the rooster would take care of me while she did other things," Poffenberger said.

Her sister said it was true. "That rooster really protected her," Miller said. "He wouldn't let anybody but mother get close to Sarah."

When Sarah and her sisters got sick, their mother gave them fresh horsemint tea. They took doses of castor oil, and used onion poultices to cure pneumonia. To this day, Poffenberger doesn't give doctors much of her time. "I go once every three months for a checkup," she said.

On the farm they ate what they grew, or raised. "I'm not much for vegetables," Poffenberger said. "About all we had when we were growing up was corn and beans. That's what we grew."

Some of today's foods just don't agree with Poffenberger. "The skim milk they use today we used to throw to the hogs," she said.

Poffenberger's philosophy about eating is simple. "I think you ought to eat what you feel like eating," she said.

Poffenberger grew up in the days when parents gave their kids whippings, and teachers smacked their hands with rulers. "Never hurt me a bit," she said. Today's kids are spoiled and need more discipline, but they also need more time and guidance from their parents, she said.

As for school, which was a two-mile walk away, well, Poffenberger never liked it much. "I used to play hooky a lot," she said. One day she and one of her sisters skipped class, and hid in a nearby field. "I remember the hogs ate our lunch," she said.

Poffenberger never gambled and never drank. She tried a cigarette once - on a dare when she was in school. "That's the last time I ever smoked," she said.

When Poffenberger married at age 18, she and her husband moved to his parents' Grove Farm. Later, the couple moved to Hagerstown, where Poffenberger became known for her Mummers' Parade parties. Also legendary are her home-cooked meals and hand-sewn quilts.

Poffenberger has a simple philosophy of life. She thinks we're put here to "train others in the Christian way," by example. "I do my Bible devotions every morning, and I try to always hold my tongue," she said. "And I thank the Lord every morning that he allows me to get out of bed."

Adopted daughter Phyllis described Poffenberger as "the perfect example of what a Christian is." She gives her angels on special occasions.

"Angels take over God's work," said Poffenberger, who sometimes feels their presence.

Poffenberger said there's one thing she'd still like to do in life - go up in a hot air balloon. "Why not? I've ridden in just about everything else," she said.

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