Claremonter still lives, loves, laughs at 100 birthday
Life is cruel, rough and unfair, mostly.
But the ones who get it all: love, family, comfort, health and most importantly—time—these are the truly lucky. You can include Claremont’s Evelyn Marie Edwards on that list.
And while her sight isn’t what it once was and she gets around with measured, careful steps, she’s every bit as effervescent as someone half her age, and twice as sweet.
I caught up with her this week at her modest Scripps Drive house, which she moved into when it was new, in 1961.
“It wasn’t anything,” Ms. Edwards said about the neighborhood. “The streets weren’t paved. We had terrible mud on the streets.” Her four young sons had never seen orange groves before, and were fascinated by the citrus growing all around their new home. That first night an air-raid siren test wailed. “It scared the wits out of them,” she recalled.
She was born Evelyn Marie Sheetz on July 29, 1917, and grew up near the banks of the Susquehanna River in Halifax, Pennsylvania. “I loved that river,” she recalled. “It had a canal. And of course we swam. We did everything you do with water. My mother said I grew up in the river.”
Her father, a rural mail carrier, kept a horse in their barn. During the winters the horse was hitched to a sled and that’s how the mail was delivered. Her neighbors spent summer evenings sitting and chatting on the family’s front porch.
Halifax, incorporated in 1785, is just .34 miles square. There were 745 Halifaxians in 1910. By 2010 the population had exploded—to 841. It could very well be the quaintest town imaginable, an assertion Ms. Edwards did not dispute. “Well, I thought it was wonderful,” she said.
She was a Girl Scout and played clarinet in her school band. Music remains part of her life to this day; various sheet music, mostly hymnals and songs of faith, sit atop a baby grand piano and an organ in her living room, which is filled with family photos. Her late husband, K. Morgan Edwards, was quite the pianist, she said, but she demurred when asked to play something. Modesty is something she cherishes.
She was raised in a Pennsylvania Dutch family, and children were taught to keep quiet, she said, adding that the way today’s culture feeds on gossip is disheartening. “It’s offensive, the fact that people don’t keep their mouths shut anymore about things. I just think there’s too much talk on a lot of things that don’t necessarily need to be brought to the forefront.”
As a senior majoring in business at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, she left school to marry a young local pastor, Mr. Edwards. Immediately after her wedding, the newlyweds left for Williams, Arizona, as Mr. Edwards had accepted an assignment in a small Methodist church near the rim of the Grand Canyon. There, her first son, Kenneth was born. Three more Methodist assignments followed, all in California, as did three more sons: Lynn Harold, in Rosemead; Bruce, in Glendale; and David, in Pasadena. The four boys are now 76, 75, 70 and 64, respectively.
It was after the Pasadena assignment that the family, by then numbering six, moved to Claremont, where the pastor took a job as a professor of homiletics in the newly established School of Theology. That was 1961, and Ms. Edward remains in that same home.
“I didn’t think of myself as getting older,” she said. “Do you know that I never even thought of my age. I was just so busy with my family and things that were going on.”
She did volunteer work with David and Margaret Youth and Family Services and was a regular helper in preparing church bulletins at the Claremont United Methodist Church.
“Y’know, in Claremont you kept busy,” she said. “We were busy in our own yards and others’ too, if you know what I mean.”
Ms. Edwards recalled a time when the neighborhood kids hung out at her home. She knew every child’s name.
“It was fun. I think we enjoyed all the neighborhood children so much because we got to know them. We knew them well. They ate at our house, they played around our house when they were tiny.”
Some of the kids still come around, but most have moved away, she said with more than a hint of melancholy.
Longevity runs in her family. Evelyn’s father lived into his nineties and her mother lived to be 99.
“My ideal birthday would be just to have my family around,” she said when asked what she was planning for her 100th, on July 29. “We’ve always celebrated that way.” Getting the family together is quite an undertaking, she said, with folks spread out all over the country. Some will be wishing her well via FaceTime and other will email and text videos for the occasion. That’s a long way from 1917.
She recalled eating a slice of her birthday cake the morning after her 85th birthday, figuring since it had milk and eggs in it, it qualified as breakfast. “I figured as long as I got that far along, I might push it a little,” she joked.
“Yep, I’ve had my share of cake.”