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100-year-old woman overcame numerous challenges in her life

Despite the hard times, Mary Rang Halligan Berkenbaugh was all smiles during celebration

November 02, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Marie Thompson-Smith, left, helps her mother, Mary Rang Halligan Berkenbaugh, right, blow out the candles on her birthday cake Wednesday afternoon at Coffman Nursing Home in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Mary Rang Halligan Berkenbaugh has been through a lot in her 100 years of life.

She lived through World War I, was around for Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the stock market crash, the beginning of radio and telephone, and World War II.

Mary's brother, Bernard Rang, went missing on a special mission in World War II and was never found.

Her first husband, John, died in about 1981.  Mary's daughter, Chris Cox, recalled her mother being "down in the dumps" at the time.

But Cox said her mother decided to take dancing lessons at Hagerstown Community College and was able to get beyond that tough point in her life.

Despite the challenges, Mary didn't appear to have a care in the world Wednesday as she celebrated her 100th birthday, repeatedly flashing her familiar smile during a party in the lobby of Coffman Nursing Home in Hagerstown.

Her guests sang "Happy Birthday" to Mary several times, adding  "and many more" at the end.

Mary rolled back her head and laughed.

"I'm overwhelmed. I never dreamed it would be anything like this," Mary said during her party.

When asked again what she was thinking about as she turned 100, Mary said: "There are no words for it. I can hardly talk."

Mary was born Nov. 2, 1911, in Manchester, Md., but spent most of her life in the local area. She worked at the state Department of Employment Security office on Antietam Street in Hagerstown, where she processed unemployment claims for people, former co-worker JoAnn Bousum said.

Friends and former co-workers at Wednesday's party described how Mary had a perfect work ethic and always had a smile.

"She had it all together, believe me," Bousum said.

Mildred "Millie" Toms, who also worked with Mary, said she is amazed how sharp Mary's mind is.

Before Wednesday, Toms said she had not seen Mary since the 1980s.

"As soon as I walked across the floor, she had a big smile on her face," Toms said.

Mary snacked on french fries and birthday cake while sitting in the lobby of the nursing home along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mary fell and broke her hip in 2008, then went to live with her daughter, Marie, for about 18 months, Cox said. Mary fell again and has been at Coffman Nursing Home for about 18 months, Cox said.

Her last name Rang is her maiden name. Halligan was the last name of her first husband, and Berkenbaugh was the last name of her second husband, Joseph.

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