Our elders have rich histories to share

May 01, 2010|By BILL KOHLER

In early February, we asked readers to tell us about some of our oldest residents in the Tri-State area. We received about a dozen nominations.

The end result was five stories profiling six area residents 100 years of age and older -- Ida Grimes, Gladys Arnold, Mary Springer, Lulu Baker, Debbie Althouse and Elizabeth "Betsy" Snively.

I recently had the chance to go back and re-read those stories. The richness of these women's lives was evident in the stories, which were compelling and entertaining. The women recalled happier times surrounded by family, friends and familiar surroundings. I hope that most of us, no matter how long we live, can look back when we're older with the same type of nostalgia.

Another thread I noticed was that each of the women profiled seemed to have a pretty decent sense of humor. It's said that "laughter is the best medicine" and perhaps this gives some credence to that old adage.


One cool thing that jumped out at me was that these women are spunky and not content with sitting around in their easy chairs -- even after the deaths of their longtime spouses.

They also remembered working hard in their younger days because, well, that's what most people did. I'm not sure that's still the case in this country. We've kind of strayed from that old-fashioned work ethic of our elders.

I always loved to hear my grandparents and parents tell their stories about the past. Perhaps that love of stories and storytelling played a role in what I do today.

All four of my grandparents have passed away and I still miss them. If still alive, they all would be centenarians now. Reading the stories by Jennifer Fitch, Marie Gilbert, Kate Alexander, Janet Heim and Alicia Notarianni brought back memories of Grandma Josie Knepper and Nanny Sally Kohler.

Josie loved to laugh, rode the Sooperdooperlooper at Hersheypark in her 70s and always was looking out for me.

Sally, a retired English teacher, kindly critiqued my early newspaper columns and stories and was also a big fan of me and all of her grandchildren. We enjoyed running errands and going to the Parlor House for lunch together.

I treasure the memories of family gatherings when everyone was around and healthy. I loved to listen to stories about my parents and other relatives when they were younger and more adventurous. I'm sure you know what I mean.

My only regret is not learning more about my grandparents (and even my father) while they were still alive.

For those who had the chance to read those five stories last month, I hope it sparked the same feelings for you. I hope you find a centenarian, octogenarian or septuagenarian to share some stories with or just befriend.

Planning those types of stories, finding great subjects, working with engaged reporters and photographers, and seeing it all come to fruition make this job enjoyable. It's definitely one of the fringe benefits.

If you missed these stories, check out our website,, and go to our archives search at the top of the page. Type in centenarians and you'll find the stories.

We've received some nice feedback on our stories and photos, and are kicking around the idea of doing it again next year. If you have someone to nominate, send me an e-mail at">

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 7281, or by e-mail at">

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