Smithsburg woman believes in getting the most out of life

November 14, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Doris Merson, 83, of Smithsburg was an EMT and firefighter before retiring to volunteer and to act in community theater. The great-grandmother said she doesn't believe in sitting still for long.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG — When it comes to living life to the fullest, it might be hard to outdo Doris Merson.

She has been a wife, mother, executive secretary, emergency medical technician, firefighter, actress, tour guide and volunteer.

Nothing would make the Smithsburg woman happier than adding a few more jobs to her resume.

"But at the age of 83, I know I can't do that," she said. "Still, it doesn't stop me from thinking about it."

Merson said she has always loved being active and involved.

Maybe it was something she learned early in life.

"I was born in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey and finished school in Arizona. So I had a pretty interesting life, going places and meeting people, even as a child," she said.

After World War II, Merson and her mother moved to Maryland, where the family had relatives.

The jobs were in cities, she reflected, so Baltimore became their new home.


Merson said she married and had three children, "but my husband died young."

"I learned to fend for myself," she added.

Merson said she held several positions in the Howard County government offices before becoming executive secretary to the county executive - a job she retired from in 1987.

At the same time, Merson was a volunteer with the Elkridge Fire Department in Howard County.

"Both my husband and I were involved with the fire company for years," she said. "We both loved it. I did some clerical work but I was an EMT (emergency medical technician) for most of those years and found the work so fulfilling."

It seemed only natural, she said, that she would want to become a firefighter.

"I was in my 50s when I decided to take basic fire fighting courses," she said. "I didn't think twice about doing it."

Merson said she later had the opportunity to go out on a few fires.

"When it comes to fighting fires, you don't do a lot by yourself," she said. "Firefighters are always watching out for each other. And though I was a woman and in my 50s, no one gave me special treatment. But I knew I had buddies looking out for me."

In 1994, Merson moved to Washington County, where her daughter and family lived.

Soon after her arrival, Merson said she began taking classes offered through Hagerstown Community College. She was taking classes at then-named Institute for Learning (now Lifelong Learning), which was held at the Valley Mall.

"I read about the classes in the newspaper and began signing up for whatever sounded interesting," she said.

She also landed a part-time job with the program, where she worked for about 10 years "before retiring again."

Now, Merson volunteers as a travel guide with the historical and cultural tours offered through Lifelong Learning.

Merson said her job is pretty simple: "I count heads and make sure everyone is where they're supposed to be."

"I really love what I do," she said. "I love to travel, but I'm not brave enough to go places by myself. This is a wonderful way to get out and see the world."

Through the program, Merson said she has traveled to nearby states, as well as Bermuda, the Bahamas and Europe. She is hoping to visit China in the future.

"I enjoy it. But I have to pace myself financially," she said.

Merson also devotes time to another passion - acting.

"The theater has always been an interest of mine," she said. "I did a little bit of acting when I was living in Howard County and my husband used to called me a frustrated actor."

Today, she performs with the Blue Ridge Theater Guild in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., and a new community theater in Gettysburg, Pa.

Merson said she has been with the Blue Ridge troupe for about 12 years and performs in two shows a year. Rehearsals are held at the Greystone Inn.

"I used to help build some of the sets," she said. "But I've had to pull back from doing that sort of work."

When she has free time, Merson said she enjoys reading and doing crossword puzzles.

"I've always loved words," she said.

Merson said she also enjoys spending time with family, including her three children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren - "at least, those are the numbers so far."

Not a day goes by, she said, when she doesn't try to expand her knowledge.

"I don't understand people who are content to just sit still," she said. "Maybe I'm different. But my advice to anyone is don't sit down for too long."

"It's important to absorb and keep on absorbing," Merson said. "You're never too old to learn. And I plan on learning for as long as I can."

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