Not resting on laurels yet

January 08, 2006|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL


As much living as Helen Overington has done, it's a wonder she's only 98.

She obtained a master's degree in an era when few women went beyond high school, bicycled around Europe in 1939, lived in England for a year, taught high school biology and general science, then married at age 35 and had five children in six years.

Her daughter and son-in-law, Peggy and Don Weller, live in the home Overington and her husband bought in Waynesboro in 1957. Overington lives next door.

A 1928 graduate of Goucher College in Towson, Md., Overington received a master's degree in genetics and cytology from Cornell University in 1930. She attended her 75th college class reunion in 2003 and was the only one there.


No matter how busy her personal life, she served her community faithfully.

After college, Overington taught biology and general science in Maryland and New York for 12 years. In 1943, she married noted ornithologist Robert Bruce Overington when she was 35 and he was 50. He gave her the choice of living in his house in Laurel, Md., or on his ranch in California.

"It was on a lake with beautiful scenery, and not such a good house," she said. "It was primitive living, but the climate was fantastic."

When their oldest child was ready for high school, they moved back east, choosing to settle in Waynesboro because it was friendly, the people were hardworking and the homes were well-maintained, Peggy Weller said.

Once in Waynesboro, Overington served the community as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and as a member of the Waynesboro College Club. In 1972, she was one of five women from the club who founded the Waynesboro Day Care Center, even though none of them needed the service.

"People didn't know anything about day care then and they were suspicious of it. They thought women should be in the home," Overington recalled. "But there were many women in the community who needed good day care."

"Mom always wanted to help others, and she instilled that in all five of her children," Peggy Weller said. "Because we had the advantage of education, we need to give back. She didn't just say it, she did it."

Although Overington did not go back to the classroom after her marriage, she never really stopped teaching.

"My parents strongly believed their children should learn the value of a dollar and be hard workers," Weller said. "We picked cherries at Five Forks Orchards. Mom would make it into an educational experience. Once she was working on vocabulary. She said, 'Phenomenon. Something very unusual. If a cow climbed a cherry tree, it would be a phenomenon.' Every time I think of the word 'phenomenon,' I have a mental picture of a cow in a tree."

The summer was not all work, though, Weller said. After a long morning of picking, the family would go to Red Run for a swim.

Overington maintains a positive, cheerful attitude by living life "as simply as you possibly can. The less goods you have to carry around with you, the better."

"Mom can get along with anyone," Weller added. "I can't remember the last time my mother criticized me."

Her health has been excellent.

"My parents saw to it that we ate properly," Overington said. "Exercise was encouraged. I loved to go for walks. I was a tomboy. I thought boys had so much more fun, climbing to the top of trees."

Overington now exercises with 5-pound weights strapped to her ankles and wrists twice a day.

"It's exhausting," she said. "But it helps with balance and agility. I still don't have a cane."

Good genes might have played a part in her longevity; all of her siblings lived to be at least 88. Overington said she never smoked or drank alcohol, and was wholesome and simple in her habits.

"Mom didn't want a dishwasher when her kitchen was remodeled," Weller recalled, "She said, 'I enjoy the conversations I have with my daughters while doing dishes.'"

Although Overington stopped driving at 92, she still gets out, going to lunch with friends, to church twice a week and to her monthly literature club. She occasionally hears from former students, even though she stopped teaching in 1943. She enjoys her 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"I have a wonderful life," she said.

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