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100-year-old woman credits longevity to being stubborn

26 family members were to gather at Ravenwood Nursing Care Center for Virginia Poling's birthday

December 30, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Twenty-six family members were to gather at Ravenwood Nursing Care Center to celebrate Virginia Poling's 100th birthday.
Submitted photo

Virginia Poling's father was a pastor, several of her uncles were pastors, she married a pastor and two of her sons are pastors.

"We go back a long way in the ministry. Her whole life was in the church. I'm her pastor now," said the Rev. Ed Poling, as he reflected on his mother's 100 years of life.

Virginia Smith was born in Nevada, Mo., on Dec. 31, 1911.

With her health hanging in the balance last year, Virginia's family wasn't sure she'd make it to the century mark.

"We told her she'd live to be 100 because she was stubborn," said Ed Poling, who is the pastor at the Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.

"That helps," Virginia agreed.

Twenty-six family members were to gather at Ravenwood Nursing Care Center, where she has lived for more than a year, to celebrate her milestone birthday.

Virginia's father was affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. Ed Poling said it was her father's "uncompromising" nature that resulted in the family moving often — to Arizona, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon.

Virginia had one sister. Their upbringing was strict, and their parents expected straight A's. There was no drinking or smoking. Higher education was valued, and Virginia went to college during the Great Depression.

Her family was living in Oregon at the time, and she wanted to study home economics and teach, but nearby Albany College, now Lewis & Clark College didn't offer that option.

Instead, Virginia studied French.

In 1941, Virginia married Newton Poling, a seminary student at the church in Elgin, Ill., where she was a member.  

They met just before he graduated from seminary and got married on the day of his seminary graduation. They were married for 60 years before his death in 2002.

"We got along most of the time. He was a minister. That meant a lot of work for him, away from home," Virginia said.

They had three sons and a daughter. There are eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

From 1948 to1961, Newton Poling was pastor at Brownsville Church of the Brethren, then served parishes in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"Everybody was steeped in the church," Ed Poling said.

"That was our social life," said daughter Beckie Karras of Mount Airy, Md., who is director of music at a Methodist church there.

They returned to Washington County in 1974 and he served as chaplain and assistant administrator at Fahrney-Keedy Nursing Home, where Virginia worked in the office.

"We all grew up in south county. Mom was a housewife and mother,"  Ed Poling said.

 It was in the 1960s when Newton was pastoring a congregation in Carlisle, Pa., and Virginia didn't have to work that she had the time to explore her own interests. She took up quilting, a hobby for which she had such a passion that she taught classes to others.

Her students formed the Friendship Quilting Guild, a local group that still holds a biennial quilt show at Hagerstown Community College, Karras said.

Virginia made countless quilts, wallhangings, pillows and potholders over the years, the majority of the work done by hand. She made her last quilt 10 years ago.

While Newton had an outgoing personality, Virginia was more reserved, but known for her organizing skills. She was not the kind of pastor's wife to visit church members, but served behind-the-scenes, Ed Poling said.

She did care what others thought of her family, though.

"We were good preacher's kids. Mom was very concerned that we didn't do anything that would cause the family to be talked about in a negative way," Karras said.

After Newton's death, Virginia moved in with Ed and his wife, Marge, for three years, then to Ravenwood's Assisted Living facility. Her health began failing after a serious illness about 18 months ago, and she has lived at Ravenwood Nursing Care Center ever since.

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