Born May 24, 1920, on the heels of the Spanish Flu pandemic, Oneonta resident Maragaret “Peggy” O’Hara will celebrate her 100th birthday Sunday in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Making the best of social distancing requirements and visitor limitations at Chestnut Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, more than a dozen family members gathered outside her window Friday to celebrate from a distance.
O’Hara, known to her loved ones as “Mimi” or simply “Meem,” is the matriarch of a family spanning three generations, including 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Five of O’Hara’s great-grandchildren — Courtney, Maggie, A.J., Katie and Thomas, of the O’Hara-Taibi clan — decorated and signed a 10-foot banner in her honor, and the nursing home staff provided a pink-frosted cake.
Grandson Timothy O’Hara brought a stuffed bear with a recording and playback device, allowing the family to preserve an enthusiastic birthday greeting. Daughter-in-law Cindy O’Hara and two of her sons, Casey and Kelly, decorated their cars with balloons, streamers and posters for a drive-by greeting from a distance.
Granddaughter Capri O’Hara-Taibi played Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” from her phone as she and her children showed off their dancing, and son Timothy jokingly offered to dance the Lindy with his mother through the window.
Granddaughter Holly O’Hara remembered learning to play ukulele and sing along to “Show Me the Way to Go Home” from her grandmother, who smiled in recognition as Holly sang.
“She loved music — she taught us all how to play the piano, even the great-grandkids,” O’Hara-Taibi said.
Born Margaret E. Ann Schoeller in New Haven, Connecticut, O’Hara moved to Oneonta at a young age, where she spent her childhood, according to O’Hara-Taibi.
She married Thomas Patrick O’Hara in 1943, just before his deployment as a military police officer in World War II. Together the couple had three sons, Thomas, Timothy and Terrance, and moved to a farmhouse on Briar Creek Road in Otego in 1962.
A prolific dancer, O’Hara owned two different dance studios in Oneonta, teaching ballet, tap and jazz there and at the YMCA, O’Hara-Taibi said. Upon her retirement, she assisted with the theatrical productions at Unatego Central School for many years.
Described by O’Hara-Taibi as “a lover of all animals,” O’Hara loved to tell the story of an orphaned fawn she rescued when its mother was hit by a car. She christened the deer “Tippy” and brought it into her house, nursing it with a bottle until it was old enough to switch to dog food and eventually go out on its own.
An avid bird-watcher, O’Hara could coax hummingbirds and even butterflies to land on her finger, O’Hara-Taibi remembered. She fed stray cats in the neighborhood and “always had a dog.”
At the nursing home, she still plays her ukulele on occasion and always looks forward to visits by therapy dogs.
Asked the secret to a long life, O’Hara said “sitting in a comfy chair.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.