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Woman dies, leaving treasures to be sold

October 29, 2000

Woman dies, leaving treasures to be sold



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


DRY RUN, Pa. - Relics dating to the Civil War are part of an estate worth more than $1 million left by Mary Cathryne Park, who died at 82 in January. They will be among the items offered in a November auction, the proceeds of which will be used to fund college scholarships and a program to help homebuyers, as stipulated in Park's will.

The scholarship fund will be established in Park's name at Brevard Community College near Cocoa Beach, Fla., where she taught from 1960 until her death.

Despite Park's age and her illness - she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer - relatives and friends said her January death came as a shock. Her youthful vitality and enthusiasm for life belied her years, they said.

All thought she would follow in her vibrant mother's footsteps and live well past 100. Even Park seemed unable to grasp that she was dying of a very aggressive cancer, friends said.

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She told friends upon learning that her illness was terminal, "I can't die yet. Mother would send me back."

Park grew up in Dry Run with her parents, James Theodore and Lucie Coons Park in a pre-Civil War home on Main Street, the third oldest house in the village of about two dozen homes in northern Franklin County.

She and her parents moved to Florida in the mid 1950s to follow her teaching career. Her father, too, was a teacher.

Park returned to her ancestral home in Dry Run every summer. Her last visit was in 1999, only two months before being diagnosed with cancer.

In Florida, builders were just finishing Park's new 4,000-square-foot, $750,000 home on Merritt Island when she died, said Victor Watson, a lawyer in Cocoa Fla., who is handling her estate.

"Friends brought her to the house in an ambulance the day before she died just so she could see her new home," Watson said.

"Everyone expected Mary Cathryne to live to be more than 100, like her mother did," said Alice Meloy, 72, Park's cousin in Doylesburg, Pa., five miles north of Dry Run.

Park's roots ran deep in this most rural part of Franklin County. An ancestor fought in the Revolution, Meloy said.

"The last time we saw Mary Cathryne was that summer. Her death was a shock. She only learned she was sick in October. It happened so suddenly," Meloy said.

"She used to come back to what she called 'Dear Old Path Valley' summers to circulate among the people here," Meloy said. "She was always trying to help others.

"The driving force in her life was always her vision of what was possible," Meloy said. "She injected a note of excitement wherever she was."

Meloy said Park was well-known in Chambersburg where she was instrumental in starting the movement for elderly housing.

A Florida newspaper, in an appreciation of Park following her death, called her "quite simply, an amazing woman, a person who believed that everyone was wonderful until they proved otherwise."

The newspaper said Park "had miles to go and years still to teach. After all, her mother, Lucie Coons Park, both heroine and a lady who was not only gorgeous but could break wild horses, died with a smile at 104. Mary Cathryne had hoped to do as well."

Park, who never married, and her mother were close. They seemed to take care of each other until her mother died in 1990, friends said.

Watson, who came to Dry Run last week to get Park's house and contents ready for a November auction, said her estate, when all bills are paid, will be worth more than $1 million.

She died leaving five homes, including the new one in Florida, three others there, and the family home in Dry Run.

Watson chose the Owl Barn Auction Co., in nearby Willow Hill, Pa., to dispose of the Dry Run house and its contents.

Owl Barn owner Stephen D. Bartos said auctions like Park's "come along once in a decade."

What makes the Park sale so unusual is that things in the home have been there since shortly after the Civil War, Bartos said.

"The family kept everything," Bartos said. "It's an unusual sale because of the historical significance of the estate and the fact that the home has been kept intact in one family all these years."

Furniture, antiques and collectibles, mostly mid-19th to early 20th-century vintage, filled the rooms. The attic held its own treasures, including four steamer trunks filled with old papers, much of it from James Theodore Park.

Among Bartos' favorites in the sale are two Eli Terry mantel clocks; a couple of turn-of-the-century men's shirts, along with other vintage clothing; a tall clock, a Pennsylvania long rifle signed by Gehrett, its Orbisonia, Pa., maker; a washstand with an original glass pull; an 1850 deed to the property; a large 1858 map of Franklin County; a stovepipe hat in its original box; an 1889 picture book on Robinson Crusoe; an original Currier and Ives lithograph of George Washington; and a Path Valley bank calendar from 1908.

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