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Avid golfer with zest for life to turn 100

Neale Baltz says active lifestyle and fresh foods contributed to her longevity

Neale Baltz says active lifestyle and fresh foods contributed to her longevity

October 22, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Neale Baltz was ahead of her time, described by her daughter as a "groundbreaker." She bucked the trends, with an attitude to match.

It's no surprise, then, that Baltz has reached the 100-year mark with her wit, health and mind intact.

She will celebrate Saturday with almost 50 family members and about 100 friends at a birthday bash at Fountain Head Country Club near her Preston Road home.

Mildred Neale was born Oct. 23, 1909, in Fauquier County, Va., the fourth of nine children and first daughter of Wayland and Mary Neale.

Her father never liked the name Mildred and called her Bill when she was born, which is what her family called her. When she went away to college, her friends called her Neale.

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Baltz said being raised on a dairy farm and eating fresh foods from the garden contributed to her long life. She also credits growing up with three older brothers for her active lifestyle.

"Well, when you have three older brothers, you don't just lie around," Baltz said. "Whether they were climbing up in the haystack, jumping off the chicken shed or whatever they're doing, I did whatever my brothers would do."

After graduating from high school at age 15, Baltz went to Harrisonburg (Va.) State Teachers' College, now James Madison University, where she earned a two-year teaching certificate in 1928. She taught for two years in a one-room schoolhouse, which she said was "hard, but a wonderful experience."

She graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor's degree in 1932. While supervisor of schools in Greenville County, Va., she took classes at Columbia University in the summer, earning a master's degree in 1936.

During her summers in New York City, Neale met Dick Baltz at a rooftop party. They went their separate ways, Dick serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II and Neale opening and supervising a school for children of Americans serving in postwar Berlin.

"Every time he mentioned marriage, it seemed another promotion came up that I wanted to do," Baltz said. "That always won out."

After earning her master's degree, Baltz took a job with Macmillan Publishing Co., traveling by car to 32 states to show teachers how to use the publishers' reading materials.

Years later, in search of the lyrics to a song that Neale would know, Dick sent a letter to her parents' home. That was the beginning of a yearlong correspondence across the Atlantic that resulted in a marriage proposal. The couple married a week later at the Neale farm in September 1947.

"I married such a nice man. He was a prince," Baltz said of her husband of 57 years, who died in 2004.

The couple shared a passion for golf, sailing and travel and a zest for life. They moved extensively for Dick's job as an accountant with Fairchild Aircraft, but made their last move when they came to Hagerstown in 1962.

That also was the year they became members at St. John's Episcopal Church.

Their only child, Mary, was 5, and they made a commitment to stay in one place until she graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1975. Had it not been for Mary, the couple would have ended up in Long Island, N.Y., Baltz said.

Baltz said she's never been good with numbers, but she was reading at age 3, thanks to newspapers and books provided by her parents and neighbors. She keeps her mind sharp reading a daily newspaper and following the local sports teams.

Almost 40 years of daily exercises -- which were suggested by her brother's doctor for back pain she had in her 60s -- keep Baltz's body moving and demonstrate the discipline and resolve that has been a hallmark of her life. Golf, which she began playing at 17, also has kept her active, although she continues to recover from a fall last winter that kept her from her golf game this year.

"She's always in a good mood, brightens up the room," said Jim Schuller, golf pro at Fountain Head Country Club, where Neale and her husband played since moving to Hagerstown's North End in 1965. He thinks golf is "part of the recipe" for her longevity.

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