Photo by Frank Prager
Mary Fessler (seated) with her daughter Margaret Bertels. Mary will be celebrating her 100th birthday with an open house Saturday, March 14.
Mary Fessler sits in her daughter’s home and recalls stories from an era few now remember.
She talks about a time before homes had electricity or telephones, let alone Internet, and when farming was still done with horses. Mary will be 100 years old Saturday, March 16.
Born in Rosedale Township in Jersey County, she actually did walk more than a mile to and from grade school in sunshine, rain, snow or cold. To attend high school in Jerseyville, she had to stay in the town during the week, then find a ride home with friends on the weekends.
Longevity runs in Mary’s family. She explains she had a brother who lived to the age of 103 and a sister who lived to 94. She met her husband, James, at the church in Elsah and was married to him for almost 60 years before his passing. She has lived with her daughter Margaret Bertels in Dorsey for the past five years.
She had a total of seven children and 13 grandchildren. She has one great-great-grandchild and says frankly she has “lost track of how many great-grandchildren.” She says many of her family members live close and she enjoys seeing them regularly.
Her family owned an apple orchard when she was growing up and she knew hard work from early on in her life. When not in school, she sorted apples and worked in the orchard. After marrying, she and her husband farmed for a living.
Her memories harken back to a time long before indoor plumbing and when a home’s stoves were wood-fired. “We had a pot-bellied stove for heat and cooked and baked on a wood cook stove,” she says.
Alert, engaging and interesting to talk to, Mary explains that things were simpler and people interacted with one another more when she was young.
“We didn’t have all of the entertainment they have today,” she explains. “Mostly, we would visit relatives and neighbors and play cards to have a good time.”
Nowadays, she enjoys playing Rummikub and working her word search puzzle books.
When asked about the changes she has seen over the years, Mary is philosophical.
“Things have completely changed from when I was young,” she says. “And the world will change again.”
An open house is being held for Mary from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Emmaus Lutheran Church in Dorsey. All five of her living children will be there as well as many other friends and family members. One of her daughters is flying in from Charleston, S.C., and another from Atlanta.
She says 100 years have slipped up on her and that she hadn’t really thought about it until recently. After having lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the invention of modern technology, she takes things as they come.
“I’ve seen a lot of things the young people today will never see,” she says.
The things she has seen and done over her lifetime are hard to imagine for anyone not having lived those experiences. Having worked hard to raise a family and take care of those around her for the past century, Mary Fessler will be celebrating not only a birthday but also experience and perspective few others know.