2 centenarians keep busy at personal care home

LEWISBURG – Priscilla Anna Merritt and Dorothy Carter, both 102 and residents of the personal care center at Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, said they both are blessed to have had such happy lives.

Priscilla Anna Merritt

Merritt said her worst disability is that she’s hard of hearing, but her memory is still sharp, as she recalls details of her life.

Merritt, who hopes to turn 103 in August, said she is healthy now, but had many illnesses as a child.

“My older brothers called me ‘Typhoid Mary’ because I had everything,” Merritt said with a laugh. “My mom said it was because they brought [germs] home from school.”

Merritt said she was extremely active as a child growing up in Saranac Lake, N.Y., in the Adirondack Mountains.

“I played hopscotch, swam in the summers, skiied and skated in the winters,” she said. “And I loved roller skating.”

Merritt said she had a good upbringing. Although her parents were strict, they taught her the importance of manners, respect and being kind to others.

“We had to say please and thank you,” she said. “I still say it and it bothers me when others don’t.”

In 1940, she married Frank Merritt, who was teaching and taking graduate courses at Hamilton College.

Merritt said they met through a mutual friend and she knew after their first date that he was the one.

Although she graduated from New York University with a teaching degree, there were no jobs during the early 1940s. So while her husband was working on his doctorate at Cornell University, she got a job there typing and was a secretary for a professor in the agriculture department.

Although the couple was unable to have children, Merritt said they both were religious enough to know that was the way it was supposed to be.

“I taught elementary school for many years while my husband taught the older students,” she said. “So we had lots of children in a way.”

After Frank’s teaching fellowship ended at Cornell, he was offered a job at Princeton, so they moved to New Jersey in 1945.

Merritt said they weren’t used to the culture at the Ivy League schools because they preferred to be active in their church, so after a few years there, he received an offer to teach at Bucknell University.

“We loved coming into Bucknell in 1948, it was more rural back then, no four-lane highway,” she said. “I thought everyone was so nice; we weren’t used to that.”

Merritt said that by the end of the day, Frank was offered a job in the English department.

“We came here and we were never sorry,” she said.

Merritt said that she and her husband became active in the local Presbyterian church, where Frank became an elder.

In 1995, Frank passed away at age 86 from complications after a fall one winter’s day.

For years, the couple lived across from the golf course in a home they had built in 1957.

“It was a wonderful spot,” she said. “We lived there until we came here.”

Early in their marriage, the couple began reading to each other, a tradition they continued.

“After dinner, he would read and then I would read awhile,” she said. “We got through a lot of books.”

Merritt said the couple stayed in their home for 35 years, until the stairs and garden got to be too much for them. When they learned that Buffalo Valley was building cottages, they met with the director.

“We loved the floor plan,” she said. “We met with Mr. Horn and paid our deposit.”

So they put a for sale sign out on Monday at their home and by Thursday the real estate agent said there were four people who wanted to buy. They selected the person who wanted to move into the house and at the same time, they were ready to move into the newly-completed cottage.

“We were the first people to move into the cottages,” she said. “For months we lived there by ourselves, but we were never sorry.”

After Frank’s death, she moved into the personal care home, where she has her own tidy and cozy apartment decorated with photos and framed needlepoints she created. Two large needlepoints also are on display in the hallway outside her room.

She still knits and crochets and tries to attend as many programs at the facility as she can.

Each day, she reads the Bible and believes that her faith is why she’s still here. Her favorite passage is Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

“I’ve had a good life. There have been hardships, but everyone’s had them,” she said. “I have nothing to complain about.”

Merritt said she’s always been active, ate balanced meals and visited the doctor regularly for checkups.

She isn’t sure why she’s lived so long, but she knows it’s out of her hands.

“I just don’t know – I think God is good to me,” she said.

Dorothy Carter

Dorothy Carter turned 102 on Jan. 6 and jokes that she doesn’t know how she got to be this old, but she’s going to take life as it comes.

“I’m still trying to figure that out!” she said with a laugh when asked about her secret to longevity.

“My parents took good care of me and I had a good upbringing.”

Carter said she “didn’t dare smoke” and always ate well. She graduated from a private girls prep school in Virginia and met her husband at American University in Washington, D.C.

“I lived at home and went to college; that’s where I met Joe,” she said of her husband, an Altoona native. “He was a student and we went together for four years.”

Her husband was employed in the nonprofit industry for a while, working at a charity in Washington.

He eventually became the executive vice president for the Red Cross in Scranton, a position that took him back to Washington.

“He was always interested in people,” she said.

Carter said she and Joe were married for 56 years before he died of a heart attack.

“He’s been gone 20-some years,” she said. “I just can’t believe it. I miss him terribly, but you do adjust. But I don’t ever stop missing him.”

The couple has two sons, Joe and Richard “Dick,” who she said are “good boys.”

“They drove me wild when they were younger,” she said with a laugh.

Both of her sons live nearby and visit her regularly.

She also has five grandchildren who visit, too.

Carter said she and Joe were married on Jan. 7, 1933, the day after her birthday.

“We did it to accommodate my friends, who couldn’t come to the wedding on a weekday, so we got married on a Saturday,” she said.

Carter said she tries to attend church services at the facility and is a religious person.

“I try to live by my faith – and I think I do!” she said.

Growing up, her family all went to church on Sundays and the children had to put out their clothes the night before so they would be ready on Sunday morning.

After she was married, she was a Sunday school teacher and taught at her church’s preschool program.

She also babysat for other children.

Her son, Dick, was friends with Gary Sojka, a former Bucknell University president.

“My son got me here,” she said. The Carters lived in a stone house near the high school and were only in Lewisburg a year when her husband died.

“My sons encouraged me to move into Buffalo Valley,” she said. “They sold my house right away and got rid of all my stuff.”

Carter said she tries not to stay too busy, but enjoys reading books and newspapers. She also tries to attend the various programs at the facility and go to worship service.

As the youngest of five children, she said she and her sisters gave their only brother a difficult time growing up.

“I was the baby,” she said. Her three older sisters all have names that start with the letter C – Catherine, Caroline and Clara – so she questioned why she was named Dorothy.

“My mom said the others were named after someone else, but I wasn’t,” she said. “Dorothy means ‘gift of God’ and my birthday is on Epiphany, [Three Kings Day] so it made sense.”

Carter said she’s seen a lot of changes throughout her life, but she doesn’t bother with all the technology of today, such as cellphones and computers.

“I’m not even crazy about the TV, either,” she said. “I like the news, ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy,’ but that’s about it.”

She doesn’t understand all the fuss about her birthday because she’s not a party person.

She said she enjoyed a nice family dinner to celebrate the occasion.

And her sons still take her out for ice cream when they come visit.

“I had a wonderful husband who adored me,” she said. “I have no complaints. I’ve had a good life.”

Charlene Fisher, administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator at Buffalo Valley, said she tries not to have favorites, but it’s hard not to with residents like Carter and Merritt.

“They’re just so sweet,” Fisher said. “With all the negativity in the world, I hope these ladies inspire others to be a better person and live a better life.”