Parkersburg woman marks 100th birthday

PARKERSBURG – Sometimes the ordinary can lead to the extraordinary as a Parkersburg woman marked her 100th birthday on Sunday.

Mary Elizabeth Stephens, of south Parkersburg, has vivid memories of the Great Depression, World War II and more.

She has also seen the city of Parkersburg change over the years. Most importantly, she remembers the people of the community and how historical events, changes in the local landscape and more have impacted the people of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Upon reaching the century mark Sunday, Stephens said it was never part of any grand plan to make it to 100-years-old.

“I never thought about it,” she said. “It is just been one day at a time.

“That is all you can do. That is all I have done. I have just had a normal life.”

Stephens was born Nov. 24, 1913, in Parkersburg, the daughter of Oris Kelley and Anna Mason Kelley. Her mother died when Mary was only 5 years old. Stephens has lived most of her life in Parkersburg, with a few years spent in Akron, Ohio, when her family moved there in the 1920s. She graduated from Akron’s Garfield High School in 1930.

“The Great Depression was terrible,” Stephens said. “People think it has been bad the last few years (during the Great Recession), but they don’t know what it was like.”

Her family was in Akron at the beginning of the Depression. She had a sister and a brother-in-law who worked at the Firestone Rubber company and they were both laid off, lost their house, but were eventually able to get it back.

“It was a bad bad time,” she said. “There were people who had it hard.

“We never went without just average things, but there were a lot of people who didn’t have anything.”

She remembers people standing in soup lines.

“There were a lot of people standing in line just to get something to eat,” she said. “There were a lot of people out of work.”

Her father, who was a contractor, eventually found work as a steam shovel operator at a brickyard and was able to support his family.

“My father and stepmother (Madge) were good providers,” Stephens said of the eight children in their household, which included siblings, step-siblings and half-siblings. All of them have passed on now.

In the early 1930’s, her family came back to the Mid-Ohio Valley and moved to a farm outside Parkersburg near Slate. They raised sugar cane to make molasses, they raised cattle and hogs, grew vegetables and more.

“We always had something to eat that way,” she said. “We had gardens and we managed well that way.

“We all worked when we were old enough.”

A short time later, she met and married Ralph Stephens in 1933.

She still lives in the home they built in 1946 along Gihon Road. The couple had four children before Ralph passed away in 1978. She has 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

“We all helped each other,” she said. “We still help each other. We had a regular family.”

Her daughter-in-law, Pat, said the whole time she has known her, Stephens has always canned tomatoes she grew. She just completed a batch recently.

“I think that stems from the Depression,” Pat said.

Stephens said she has canned vegetables all of her life.

Pat said Stephens was even outside recently pruning bushes and breaking up the sticks to be disposed of.

When WWII came, their children were able to find work as the country had to gear up for war. She had a half-brother in the service at the time. She remembers when it ended in 1945.

“People gathered downtown when they said the war was over,” Stephens said. “I remember people were gathered on Market Street and were celebrating that the war was over.

“There were a lot of families who went there. We had a lot of neighbors in the service.”

Stephens and her husband raised dairy cattle, hogs, chickens and grew many vegetables on their farm with all of the kids tending to various chores.

“Everyone had to do it,” Stephens said.

During a massive snowstorm in the early 1950s, many local stores sold out of food, her son David said. They ended up giving chickens to their neighbors so people would have something to eat. They also had milk and eggs they were able to supply people with, to get them through.

Stephens had worked for several years at the Dils Department Store on Market Street in the mid 1960s until the late ’70s. She had worked as a seamstress and as a clerk.

Stephens talked about how the area of Gihon Road has changed.

“There was nothing out here,” she said. “It has been a nice area to live in.

“We now have a lot of traffic out here.”

She has seen houses, churches and other businesses spring up around the immediate area. City bus lines helped her to be able to get around town for years.

“When you use to tell people that you were moving out on Gihon Road, people would say ‘Wayyyyyy out in the country,'” she said. “They thought you were really moving out to the boondocks.”

Stephens will be spending the holidays with family as family members will be coming in from all over the country.

She said that everyone always needs to do the best they can in anything that life gives them.

“Stick with it,” she said. “Be honest.

“There are a lot of good people in this town, so if you are one of them, you will be OK.”

Still she wasn’t sure why people were making a big fuss about her.

“I have led a very mundane life,” she said. “It is not very exciting.

“I have led a regular life. I don’t know why I have lasted this long. I am not a health food nut, I don’t eat special things and I don’t go the the health club. I have just led a regular life.”