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At 104 years old, home is still where her heart is

April 05, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Lulu Baker talks about her life of 103 years from her home in Waynesboro, Pa.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

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

WAYNESBORO, PA. -- In nearly 104 years, Lulu Newcomer Baker says the greatest event of her lifetime was not heard around the world. It did not involve a foreign country, a political leader, or the stock market.

It happened in 1917 and is the one event that she, a girl who has lived her entire life in Waynesboro, would always remember.

Pa. 316, the road between Waynesboro and Chambersburg, Pa., was still a dirt road when the hail storm of 1917 hit, said Lulu (pronounced "Lu-la").

"I was 11 years old. I was at the old Prices School that day," she said. "I remember it was harvest time. The hail was so big that it broke the windows."

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The storm's impact on Lulu 's life was marked, she said.

Hail, the biggest she had ever seen, destroyed part of her home and part of her family's livelihood, she said.

Lulu, the daughter of a farmer, spent the early part of her life on a farm west of Waynesboro.

Life for a woman was different back then, she said.

Most women did the work of mothers and wives, not CEOs and doctors, she said.

Lulu said she never attended high school.

"I didn't pass the test," she said. "Oh, sure, I could have passed, but I didn't want to."

In the 1920s when Lulu was eligible to attend high school in Zullinger, Pa., each student was required to take a test, similar to the SAT test taken by most high school graduates today.

Only those who passed the test were admitted to high school, she said.

Lulu said she does not regret quitting school early.

"I've had a wonderful life," she said, recounting her various jobs and experiences.

Slowing down was never an option for Lulu.

"The 20s? I was busy during the 20s, mostly hanging (wall) paper," she said. "I hung paper on our walls and on our ceilings. It was a lot different then, the paper was nicer."

Just as slowing down was never an option, neither was moving away.

Having lived in the same small town all of her life is a point of pride for Lulu.

Sure, she remembers the Great Depression, the day President Kennedy was shot, Pearl Harbor and every war since World War I, but when asked about her life, her yardstick is a bit humbler.

Marked by changes in her hometown, she measures the years by events, like when three movie theaters were open in town and when Waynesboro was an industrial model other communities envied.

Lulu did visit other cities and towns with her husband, Charles Baker, a local machinist, but always they came home to Waynesboro, she said.

"Excursions, that is what we called them," she said. "We went on an excursion once to Niagara Falls with my niece and her husband."

Smiling at a photograph from that trip, she began to chuckle.

"I bought a silk dress in Canada and I didn't want to pay tax on it so I smuggled it under my dress," she said. Gesturing to the photo, she said, "See here? I think I'm wearing it."

Charles has been gone for a few decades and her two children, Louise and Marilyn, have given her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But it was not until recently that age started to catch up with her, Lulu said.

Gesturing to her bright red walker, she explains that her knees don't flex like they did at age 95 when she still went bowling regularly.

And her eyes, she said, don't see as well as when she learned the art of tatting at age 11.

Tatting, or lace making, has been a common thread through Lulu's life.

Determined to master the art as a child, she showed off her latest creations, delicate lace stars and circles.

Her hands, though also starting to fade, still remember each tatting stitch.

So what is her secret to living 103 years and only now starting to feel her age?

Hard farm work and hearty country cooking played a big part, she said.

However, she credits her mind and her God for long life.

"It might be hard to get around but I am happy to be as good as I am for my age," she said. "I just don't want to lose my mind, I try to hang onto that. Because when I think way back, I can remember."

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