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September 23, 2013

Swapping stories with a sweet centenarian

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The Daily Star

---- — Marge Mathews is one very special lady.

I had the pleasure of spending a quiet afternoon with her over a piece of homemade apple pie a few days ago. Marge, you see, was getting ready to celebrate a birthday coming up.

“Yes, they always make a big fuss about it,” the spry little lady said. “I am sure there will be a party here, a gathering there, some cake at Denny’s or maybe Brooks or McDonalds. They all know me at those places.”

Marge has been around long enough to see it all.

“I was born in East Meredith and moved to Oneonta when I was 2. Been here ever since,” she told me with certainty.

“Oneonta was a lot different way back when. My folks, Pasquale and Angelina, came from Italy. Dad worked for more than 40 years with the D&H railroad. We lived on a street that is no longer around, Liberty Street. It’s where the Lettis Highway is now. My girlfriends and I used to play all over the neighborhood and we had a fun time. Gals like Rose and Mary Powell, Alice Dilello and my three sisters Minnie, Josephine and Antoinette. We all stayed together.

“We went to dances in downtown Oneonta. At a place called Dreamland over one of the businesses. Downtown was a great place to be when you were young in my day. Lots of exciting things to do and fun places to go.”

Marge hasn’t moved around much. Just East Meredith to Liberty Street and then to Wells Avenue. “We moved there after the war,” she said.

She was speaking of World War I.

Marge went to Oneonta Public Schools all the way through graduation. I am sure this devout Catholic would have attended St. Mary’s School if she could have.

“It wasn’t around yet back then,” she said with a slight giggle.

Marge Mathews is 105 years old next week.

I asked her about her association with St. Mary’s Church. “I have been a member all my life,” she told me. “I was baptized there in 1908. I married my husband, Thomas Mathews, in the old St. Mary’s on Feb. 22, 1930. We went on our honeymoon to Brooklyn.”

“Brooklyn,” I said. “Gee that doesn’t sound very romantic.”

The little bespectacled lady leaned over her apple pie and winked at me. “We thought it was plenty romantic,” she laughed.

Tom Mathews was a longtime newspaper man at what was then the Oneonta Daily Star, working the linotype and rising to shop foreman. Marge spent decades making dresses at the Fairfield Manufacturing Company on Dietz Street.

I spoke with Carol Ann Bagnardi, who is related to Marge by marriage. She told me Marge has no relatives left in the Oneonta area but has a large family in Albany. “The weddings up there are epic. A very big family for sure.”

Carol is a constant, friendly and reliable companion to Marge and she does it willingly. “I love this lady. She is the wisest, nicest most undemanding woman I have ever met. She is such a joy to be around. Even when the littlest relatives come around, they gravitate to Marge to listen to her stories. She is just so special. And resilient. She doesn’t have a regular doctor, lives alone in her home, and I have to argue with her to get her to take an aspirin,” she said with a smile.

Is Marge the oldest resident of Otsego County? Probably. Is she the oldest member of the St. Mary’s parish? Almost certainly.

Marge’s faith, rooted in her earliest days at Oneonta’s hallowed Catholic Church, maintains her as she takes each day at a time. “I am ready,” she told me. “I am not afraid. When my Lord calls me home, I am ready to go.”

On Oct. 13, 2013, Marge Mathews will enjoy the blessings of the church at a Mass said with special intentions for her at St. Mary’s. If you want stop by to give her a birthday wish, well, she will be there. She has always been there. From her 1908 baptism to a celebration of her 2013 birthday. Different building, same church. It has been a long and spiritual journey for this special woman.

I asked her if she was going out after Mass.

“Probably, to one of my favorite places for a little gathering,” she said.

I asked her if she would have a cake with candles on it.

“105 candles! I don’t think they make cakes that big,” she laughed.

I’ll catch you in two ...

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find him on Facebook by searching “Big Chuck.” He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.