Mary Ellen Shank lived full life

was to turn 106 on Sept. 1

August 28, 2005|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Mary Ellen Shank, who died Aug. 21 at the age of 105. Her obituary appeared in the Aug. 23 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

From all accounts, Mary Ellen Shank never behaved much like a little old lady even when she was a little old lady.

Case in point: On her 105th birthday party last September, Mary insisted on riding a horse to commemorate the occasion.

Almost to her last day, Mary was active, always wanting to do things, her family members said. A devoted bingo enthusiast, Mary played her last game just two weeks before she died on Aug. 21.


"Mom lived the last 57 or 58 years of her life here at 526 George St.," daughter Maude Myers said. "She would have been 106 on Sept. 1."

Maude and her siblings grew up in Hagerstown. She remembers her mother bowling and playing baseball and croquet when she was 91 years old. Now, only Maude and her sister, Helen McSherry, survive their mother.

"She went sledding with us and then with her great-grandchildren until she was 75 years old," said Sis Dobbins, Mary's oldest grandchild.

Always active and quite fearless, Mary had a reputation for being willing to try just about anything. Sis said she took her mother on a motorcycle ride when she was in her 60s ... and it was her idea.

"When she was 85 years old, our church went to King's Dominion and she wanted to ride the roller coaster," grandson Dale Higgins said. "I was a little scared about her riding it, but I wasn't about to tell her no."

Dale said he screamed the whole way through the ride, but Mary just laughed. And then she wanted to go again, Dale said.

Brenda Higgins called Mary "Granny," even though she was just related via her marriage to Mary's grandson, Terry Higgins.

"My favorite memory of her was her lemon meringue pie - I've never had one as good," she said.

Grandson Bill Higgins recalled going to wrestling matches with his grandmother when he was 8 or 9 years old.

"One wrestler threw another wrestler out of the ring and Granny hit him on the head with her umbrella," Bill said. Her penalty for that was being escorted out of the armory on North Potomac Street.

Mary's youngest grandchild, Cathy Ridenour, always will remember her grandmother walking her to Winter Street School when she was a little girl.

"And if I wasn't home by a certain time, she'd come looking for me," Cathy said.

In the summertime, Cathy always would help her grandmother with the penny pitch at the Antietam Fire Company carnival - another warm memory. Family picnics usually erupted into water battles and Cathy said her grandmother usually was the one who started them.

Robin Hildebrand remembers her grandmother rubbing her legs when she was a little girl to help her fall asleep.

"Now, I have done the same for my grandchild," Robin said.

Grandson Mick Dobbins said his grandmother knew how to have a good time.

"We'd go out and she would get one Tom Collins to drink," he said. "When she got home, she opened the door and threw her shoes in the house - if they didn't come back out again, she knew she could go home."

Mary's husband, Jacob Shank, died in 1966.

Still with all the fun and games, Mary had a serious side and her daughter, Helen, remembers that about her mother very well.

"I came home on leave from the Army and mom had made my favorite green beans," she recalled. But during the dinner, Helen said "a bad word" and her mother slapped her.

"I never talked like that again," Helen said.

Helen worked with her mother for a time at the Alexander Hotel in linens and housekeeping. During her later years, Helen often took her mother to play bingo.

In 2002, when Mary turned 103, she was treated to cake and ice cream at Hagerstown Elks Lodge 378, where she often played bingo. Mary said then that she didn't like sitting around and yearned to do things, shunning even a cane to help her walk.

Born Sept. 1, 1899, Mary managed to live in three different centuries and stay active until the end.

The Herald-Mail Articles