NEW FREEPORT – Margaret Isiminger Moninger of New Freeport is turning 106 – that’s right, 106 years old – Feb. 4 and her gift list is the cost of a birthday card and a stamp.
“The family thought it would be fun for Margaret if she were to receive 106 birthday cards, so we’re trying to get the word out. It’s posted on Facebook and the cards are starting to come in,” daughter Shirley Zimmerman said. “The weather is just too bad to have a party now but we’re hoping to have one in the spring or early summer.”
Receiving more than 106 cards would certainly be icing on the cake and so would a visit from old friends who still remember the way to Herrods Run Road, Zimmerman added with a smile. “Mom is living with me now and she loves having visitors.”
When Moninger, still spry and conversational, with a taste for fashionable clothes, clip-on earrings and Facebook, was born in 1908 on Mt. Carmel Ridge, the year the Model A Ford was rolling off the assembly line. The rutted dirt roads of Greene County were still traveled by horse and by foot and Mt. Carmel was miles from anywhere. Still, by state law, one-room schoolhouses were strategically placed and children and teachers walked up to three miles to attend them. But in western Greene County, high schools were for those who could manage to get to either Aleppo or Cameron, W.Va.
Luckily, a railroad spur to Cameron W.Va., just down the hill from the Isiminger family farm, was Moninger’s ticket to not only high school, but a teaching degree. “I was the fifth child. There were four older and four younger than me. As I recall, only three of us went to high school,” Moninger said. Her wonderfully intact memories paint a picture of those times.
“I graduated in 1927 and there were 38 in my class at Hilltop School. It’s not there now, but there were two rooms up and two rooms down. I boarded with my older brother Annon and went home on weekends.”
After graduation, she would stay in the dorm at West Liberty State Teachers College and within a year she was back home to teach.
Moninger’s scrapbooks chronicle the many decades of her life, the geneology of her family and the highlights in the lives of her children, grandchildren, the greats and the great-greats.
Holding up the Jan. 16 edition of the Observer Reporter, she pointed to the Hot Shot photo that would soon be in a scrapbook. “That’s my great-great grandson Garrett Roberts.”
The photograph, taken by Garrett’s grandmother and Moninger’s granddaughter, Donna Roberts, shows 13-month old Garrett peering out the window at a herd of deer on a recent snowy day.
Moninger’s Facebook profile photo shows her and baby brother Paul Isiminger, “he’ll be 93 in July” of Deerborn, Mich., posing for a snapshot when he came to visit in the fall of 2013.
“He and I are the only ones left, but all but two of us lived beyond 90,” Moninger noted.
Thanks to her longevity Moninger is also a volunteer for scientific research.
“The Isiminger side of the family is being studied,” Zimmerman said. The International Long Life Family Study is following the lives of 6,000 people, with research centers in Pittsburgh, New York, Boston and Denmark. Moninger is the oldest person in the study from Western Pennsylvania.
“They interviewed us and took blood samples and ran tests and every three years they do a follow up,” Zimmerman said.
Traces of the longevity gene seem to be present in the women who married Isimingers, as does their mental acuity that Moninger still possesses.
Her grandmother, Hannah Miller Isiminger, 1839 to 1926, was the neighborhood midwife and herbalist, delivering babies and riding horseback across hill and hollow, attending to her neighbors.
When Moninger began teaching, she did her own share of horseback riding to get to and from the one-room schools of Mt. Carmel, Pigeon Run and Herrods Run. But the 20th century was beginning to show up on those back roads – young men and their sometimes homemade gas-powered vehicles.
“I remember riding on the fuel tank of my brother Annon’s cut down car that he built. It was the only place to sit,” Moninger said.
“Tell us how you met daddy,” Zimmerman urged.
“I came to teach at Herrods Run School and he lived up the road. That’s how we met. I was boarding with Paul and Frances King and walking to school. He was the only boy who had a car and the boy I dated didn’t have one,” Moninger said, her eyes twinkling. “I think his father bought it for him – he was the baby of the family. We got married in Moundsville on Dec. 24, 1929, and they let me finish the school year. Back then you didn’t teach after you were married. Don and I were married 66 years.”
Moninger brought her teaching skills home to her own four children and their families that now span generations.
Studies show that those who stay active, keep community connections alive and are willing to learn new things have a better chance of living old age to its fullest, never mind the longevity gene.
Moninger is a charter member of the Warrior Trail Association – the trail’s western end Adirondack shelter was built on Moninger acerage. She is also a lifetime member of Harveys Aleppo Grange and has volunteered for the American Cancer Society and Greene County Memorial Hospital Escort Service. Her attendance at Centennial Church depends mostly on the weather these days, but her memories of the Christmas pagent featuring Annabelle the mule are still delightfully fresh.
“When I got out this old checkerboard I found a note in it telling the date of the last checker game she played with her dad in 1966, a month before he died,” Zimmerman said. “The other night we played three games and she beat me. I didn’t let her win – she cornered me every time.”
Feb. 4 will most likely dawn cold and snowy, but hopefully, there also will be a blizzard of birthday cards at 704 Herrods Run, New Freeport, PA 15352.