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Hancock woman marks 100th with open house

June 20, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HANCOCK -- A stroll through Regina Heller's home on West High Street in Hancock brings you face to face with her past.

There are photographs of her parents, furniture that belonged to her grandfather and dolls from her childhood.

But history doesn't linger only in objects. It lingers in the stories she tells -- reaching across time and giving listeners a glimpse of the last century.

Heller turned 100 years old Saturday.

She marked the milestone by holding an open house and greeting visitors who stopped by to say, "Happy birthday."

"I guess it's a big deal," Heller said. "But I can't believe it. I'm actually 100 years old."

Regina Katherine Exline Heller came into this world on a Sunday morning, the only child of Harry and Mertie Exline. She was born in a frame house on the same property where her present home stands.

The original structure had been used as an Episcopal rectory, she said. But several years later, her father decided to build a new home with bay windows, a wraparound porch, electricity and running water.

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"I've lived here, probably, since I was in the first grade," Heller said. "When I got married, I moved out. But my husband and I returned after my parents died. I've been here ever since."

Heller said she has been a resident of Hancock her entire life and has seen a lot of changes.

She remembers when the streets weren't paved -- "just mudholes" -- and transportation was by horse and buggy.

She also remembers being one of the first families in town to own a Model T Ford.

"My father hated to drive," Heller recalled. "But my mother loved it. She taught me how to drive when I was 16 and we went everywhere. That was really something because back then, very few women drove."

That same year, Heller said, she was crowned Miss Hancock at a three-day homecoming affair.

She remembers going to the last talking movie at the local theater and dancing on the front porch to the Victrola with her friends and cousins.

Heller continued her education after high school, attending St. Joseph's College in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1927. Not many women went to college in those days, she said, but this was part of a new era that started in 1920, when women were granted the right to vote.

Following college, Heller became a welfare worker as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program.

"Back then, I knew everybody in Hancock and parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia," she said. "Times have changed. Now, I don't know so many people."

Heller married her husband, Al, in 1936 and had three children, Mercy, Penny and Allen.

Following her husband's death in 1992, Heller continued to live on her own and remained active at St. Peter's Catholic Church and within her community.

A fall four years ago, which resulted in a broken hip, has slowed her down.

"But otherwise, I'm in good health," she said.

Following his retirement, her son, Allen Heller, returned to Hancock and now resides with his mother.

It was her children who decided to have the open house to celebrate her 100th birthday.

"It's really something that she's 100," Allen Heller said. "We wanted to celebrate. She's been remarkable as far as her age. She goes to the doctor twice a year and only takes four pills a day. How many people do that?"

"People will see a lot of changes in their lives, but nothing like what she's seen," he said.

Her daughter, Penny Barg, recently decided to tell her mother's story by creating a Web page. People interested in reading about Regina's past 100 years can go to www.reginaheller.com.

"She's really a remarkable woman," Allen Heller said. "She doesn't nap and finds ways to fill her day, including always reading the newspaper."

What's her secret for living a long and prosperous life?

"Faith and family," she said. "But also a love of sweets and an afternoon cocktail."

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