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Centenarians offer link to past century

April 03, 2010
  • Ida Grimes, 105, is seen in the living room of her Williamsport home.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Editor's note: In early February, we asked readers to tell us about some of our oldest residents of the Tri-State area. We received about a dozen nominations and have profiled five of the centenarians. The stories begin today and continue through Wednesday.

Ida Grimes



By MARIE GILBERT

marieg@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT -- Every day, Ida Grimes is surrounded by a tapestry of family history.

She lives in her childhood home, sleeps in a bed handcrafted decades ago by her grandfather and looks out her front window to a house across the street where she was born.

There are trinkets that belonged to her mother and photographs of loved ones.

But pieces of the past don't linger only in structures and objects.

They exist in people such as Ida, who, through memories and stories, offer a bridge to the last century.

On Feb. 16, Ida Grimes celebrated her 105th birthday.

She quietly marked the milestone by going out to dinner with family and friends.

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"I never thought I'd live to be this age," she said. "Does anybody? I certainly don't feel like I'm 105."

Ida was born in 1905 to Samuel and Nettie Grimes -- the sixth of seven children.

The family lived on South Vermont Street in Williamsport, with other relatives living on the same block.

Ida's aunt, Emma Grimes, known affectionately as Mamie, lived across the street in a house built by Ida's grandfather.

Emma couldn't have children, Ida said, so she offered to take Ida and raise her.

For Ida, it meant she had two mothers and two homes.

"I was going back and forth, from one house to the other, all the time," she recalled. "I had the best of both worlds."

Ida said she loved growing up in Williamsport and probably knew everybody in town.

"I guess most people knew me," she said. "I had a lot of friends, very close friends. We went to school together, played together, did everything together. We stuck together, the whole bunch of us."

Ida said it was a different era and the simple things were fun activities -- such as dancing.

She remembers going to parties, and especially remembers a party of her own, planned by her aunt who invited everyone in Ida's class.

"There was so much food," she said. "The dining room table was full. It's something I've never forgotten."

Ida graduated from Williamsport High School in 1923 and headed off to Maryland Normal School, now Towson (Md.) University, where she completed a two-year teaching program.

"I guess it was in my blood," she said. "My uncle was a teacher and I had friends who became teachers. So I guess it was something I thought I had to do."

Following graduation, Ida returned home and began teaching first, second and third grade at Pinesburg School near Williamsport.

"They assigned me to a country school -- a one-room schoolhouse," she said. "It may have been small, but I remember teaching a lot of children."

She later taught the same grades at Broadway and Surrey schools, until her retirement in 1978.

"I always enjoyed teaching," she said. "I never really wanted to do anything else. Sometimes, it was challenging. But I truly loved it."

In addition to teaching, Ida also worked evenings at Jeanne's Confectionery in Williamsport. She and Jeanne House, who owned the business, are as close as sisters, she said. She continued to help out until Jeanne closed the store in the late 1990s after running it for 53 years.

Following her retirement, Ida said she was able to do some traveling, including trips to Europe and Hawaii.

Ida said she has seen a lot of changes in the world around her. She has lived through two world wars, 19 presidents, prohibition, women's suffrage and a man on the moon.

She has gone from traveling on dirt roads to superhighways and by horse-drawn carriage to driving an automobile. In fact, she drove around town until just a few years ago, she said.

Ida said she remembers the Depression, "but it didn't affect me too much. My aunt kept things going for me. I was her prize."

Ida said she is a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Williamsport and enjoys weekly visits from her minister and church members.

"A lot of people stop by to visit," she said. "I have a lot of friends."

Since childhood, she also has had a lot of cats. Currently, she has one house cat, Nuisance. But, over the years, she has insisted on placing food outside for the stray cats that find their way to her back door.

"You can't let cats go hungry," she said.

Although she fell several years ago and broke her hip, she made a complete recovery and is the picture of good health, said Marianne Cline, her caregiver.

"She takes a blood pressure pill and multivitamins, and that's it," Cline said. "She hasn't even had a cold in two years."

Ida said she enjoys watching television, eating chocolate candy and taking an afternoon nap -- "unless I have someplace to go."

"We go out for dinner and take drives in the country," Cline said. "She has a great sense of humor, so we always have a lot of fun together."

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