Centenarians Springer and Shank share many similarities

July 04, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Madaline Springer and Paul Shank, both 100 years old, attended the one-room Hopewell School and are longtime members of Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — There are many similarities in the lives of Madaline Springer and Paul Shank.

Both were raised in large farming families for at least a portion of their childhood on Hopewell Road, attended the one-room Hopewell School and are longtime members of Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown.

Most striking, though, is that they celebrated their 100th birthdays within six months of each other. Springer’s birthday was Jan. 2, while Shank became a centenarian June 29.

Good clean living, hard work, an active lifestyle and a strong faith seem to be the threads that tie their longevity together.

“The Lord has blessed us all these years,” Shank said.

“Oh, I think so,” Springer agreed.

Springer was the seventh of nine children, all born at home, to George and Carrie Socks.

She said her older sisters took her to Grace United Methodist Church when she was a toddler. Her mother was always busy tending to younger children and stayed home on Sundays.

Springer attended school through eighth grade, first at Hopewell School and Winter Street School. When the family moved to Manor Church Drive, she got rides to Washington Street School with her brother on his way to work.

Attending Columbia Business College in Hagerstown for secretarial school was the next step for Springer. She worked at Fairchild Industries for 12 years.

She took time off after her daughter was born, then returned to Fairchild, before taking jobs with different stores, and worked in Greencastle, Pa., processing peaches and apples.

“I tried to retire a couple times, but they kept calling me,” Springer said.

Springer, whose mother spelled her name “Madeline,” didn’t like the way people pronounced it.

“I think Momma had an “e” in it, but I changed it,” she said.

Shank was the youngest of Charles and Carrie Shank’s seven children. He graduated from Williamsport High School in 1929, the only one in his family to graduate from high school.

He took a job working at a local drugstore soda fountain, never dreaming where it would lead.

“I took a temporary job at People’s Drugstore that lasted 44 years,” said Shank, who took time off to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He said he was always active and on his feet working for the drugstore. Shank was promoted to manager, a post he held for the last 15 years of his career. He retired in 1973.

Springer was 21 when she married Fred Bender. They lived with her parents in their Whitehall Road home.

Fred worked in the ironworks in Hagerstown, gaining skills that qualified him for a civilian job in the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Springer said.

Fred worked in a large tank in the Navy Yard and contracted pleurisy, which developed into pneumonia. He died less than two years after they were married.

“I thought I died with him,” said Springer, who remained single for 10 years after his death and helped raise two nieces.

She then married Ernest Springer in 1943, right before he was sent overseas with the U.S. Army. Madaline Springer was reluctant, though, because she didn’t want to lose a second husband.

He returned safely and their only child, Sandy, was born in 1946. Ernest died in 1981.

Shank was 26 when he married Elizabeth Ground in 1936. They met after both were invited by friends to a club gathering of young farm people who met between Wilson’s and Clear Spring.

Paul and Elizabeth showed up for the next meeting and he asked her for a date, the beginning of their three-year courtship. She worked at Leiter’s Department Store in Hagerstown.

They had two children — Karen (Helfrich) and Jerry — four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Jerry and his wife, Rose, have been members at Grace for about 60 years.

After Shank’s retirement, the couple went on bus trips and visited all but three states in the United States, as well as traveling to Canada. The Shanks were married 60 years before Elizabeth’s death in 2007.

Paul Shank was baptized at St. Paul’s Church in Clear Spring, but joined Grace United Methodist Church when he married Elizabeth. He was a lay leader for more than 20 years, taught a women’s Sunday school class for almost 30 years and served as Sunday school superintendent.

Over the years, Springer helped in the church kitchen for numerous banquets. She is famous for her orange-pineapple cake, which was requested for a recent church dinner.

Springer still has a car and a valid driver’s license, but no longer drives. She gets rides to church so she can attend almost weekly, as her health allows.  

When Shank and Springer were growing up, their families ate food they raised themselves. Springer still favors fruit and vegetables, eats meat occasionally, but has never liked chicken. Shank, on the other hand, said if it’s edible, he’ll eat it.

Staying active also is key for Shank and Springer.

“I always have plenty to do,” Springer said.  

Both still live independently, Shank in a cottage at Ravenwood Lutheran Village he’s lived in for 19 years. He volunteered there until about a year ago. Shank’s son and daughter and their spouses check in on him.

“They look after me. I’m very thankful,” Shank said.

Shank’s first stay in the hospital was last year, at age 99. Springer has only been in the hospital for the birth of Sandy and to have a tonsillectomy, before a hospitalization in 2004, when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Springer’s birthday was celebrated with a party on her birthday at the Charles Town (W.Va.) Moose Lodge, where the son-in-law of one of her nieces is chef.

Shank’s family and some friends were to celebrate at a dinner at Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Thurmont, Md.

Shank reflects that during their lives, they have gone from horse and buggy to the space age, computers and cellphones. Neither Shank nor Springer have used a computer, though.

It doesn’t take technology to have a long, happy life. Perhaps a sense of humor helps.

When Shank was asked for the secret to long life, his reply was, “Don’t die when you’re young.”

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