Pa. woman feted on 106th birthday

May 05, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - She lived through 19 U.S. presidents, outlived her family and her generation, her grandfather founded Rouzerville, Pa., and on Tuesday Mary Bonbrake celebrated her 106th birthday.

Dozens of people, including Rose Manor residents, former neighbors, a couple of younger distant relatives, some local officials and a few friends, came to Rose Manor where Bonbrake now lives to help her celebrate the milestone and to share their memories of her.

Hers are gone now, wiped out by advanced age, her niece, Jane Mulligan, 67, of Fallston, Md., said.

The woman did little but smile and say a few words as accolades, proclamations and official letters of congratulations from area local and state officials were presented to her.


She sat in her chair and said little, but seemed to enjoy the attention.

Born May 4, 1898, Bonbrake spent her life in Rouzerville in the same home she grew up in with her parents, Harry and Rose Bonbrake.

She never married, but she did have a long-time boyfriend, Johnny Johnson of Hanover, Pa., said Mary Knott, a former Rouzerville neighbor. Their relationship lasted about 60 years until Johnson died, former neighbors said.

Rouzerville was a small community of about 200 people in those days, Knott said. Most people knew what their neighbors were doing.

Bonbrake attended the same church all her life, Trinity Lutheran. She worked as a secretary at Landis Machine Co.

She lived on her own until she was 99. A fall and a broken shoulder sent her into assisted living. "I helped her off the floor when she fell," Knott said.

Thelma Harbaugh Gantz, Bonbrake's sister-in-law, said Bonbrake came to her house to see her when she was born on March 25, 1918. "She was 20 then," she said.

Gantz said her mother, Emma Hoffman Harbaugh, and Bonbrake had been friends since childhood.

Mary Fox, a neighbor of Bonbrake's for 50 years, remembers that she always wore a hat when she went to church or dressed up to go out.

Bonbrake had three sisters, Thelma, Belle and Roseanne, and a brother, William. An old family photo hanging on the wall at Rose Manor in honor of the birthday celebration showed three young Bonbrake sisters, but no one present Tuesday was sure which one was Mary.

Among those who knelt before Bonbrake's chair Tuesday were Waynesboro Mayor Louis M. Barlup Jr., who brought a proclamation that he had written himself celebrating her history and life.

Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher told her of Rouzerville's history, how her grandfather, Peter Rouzer settled in the area in 1861 and laid out the community seven years later. State Rep. Pat Fleagle brought an official greeting as did an aide to state Sen. Terry Punt.

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