A hundred years old . . . and still counting
Shortly after Glenn and Jeannette (Maxwell) Williams got married on December 17, 1930, they moved out into the woods in Hickory Township. There were seven houses on the short dirt street – and not much else.
“When we first lived here,” Glenn said, “there weren’t many stores around, but we had a milk man, a bread man, a meat man, a fruit man. There was a grocery store up on State Street, but a lot of the food came right to the house.”
The owner of the house they were living in decided to sell it, and Glenn and Jeannette couldn’t afford to buy it. So they bought a less expensive house just down the street. To move the furniture from the one house to the other, Glenn built a stone boat – a wooden sledge he pulled with his car.
They’re still living in that house, but it’s not in the woods anymore. Their street – Baker Avenue, which runs south off State Street next to Philadelphia Candies – is now a residential neighborhood in the city of Hermitage, with houses and businesses all around.
Ask Jeannette what is better now than it was then. She says, “Almost everything.” Those were the Depression years, and things were tough. A few days after they were married, the banks closed. Glenn made money any way he could. He painted houses for the Sharon Building and Loan, and virtually all the money he made went for food and house payments. There wasn’t a lot left over for fun.
For more than a month, Glenn walked to Sharon Steel three times a day to stand in line at each shift change with others who hoped there would be an opening for work. One evening he didn’t come home, and Jeannette thought something bad had happened to him. She was very glad to find out that he had been hired – not just for that night, but permanently.
“I was working in the pickle shop,” Glenn said. “I always smelled like acid. I kept asking for a transfer, but they wouldn’t give me one. So I went to work for National Malleable, at the open hearth.”
Three years after he started working there, World War II came to an end. The open hearth was shut down for good, and Glenn found himself again without a job – but not for long. The next day he went back to Sharon Steel and was hired on the spot. He continued to work there until he retired in 1970.
Work for Glenn didn’t end when he came home from Sharon Steel for the evening or weekend. He was known as the fixer-upper for the neighborhood.
“Everybody helped everybody else,” Glenn said. “I believe in helping – if you’re going to help somebody, you’re going to get a good turn back.”
“When he was helping out on a house just down the road,” Jeannette said, “he could see our back porch. I would hang out a white flag when it was time for him to come home and eat.”
“Dad was always willing to help out,” said Marilyn Williams. “In the blizzard of 1951, he helped shovel off the roof of the Maple Drive School.” She laughed when she said the kids were all hoping it would cave in.
That same blizzard provided Glenn with another serious challenge.
“The sister of one of our neighbors lived out beyond Hogback,” he said. “Her daughter had pneumonia. The ambulance tried to get out there, but couldn’t get through the snow. I had an Oldsmobile. I said to my neighbor, put on your heavy clothes and bring your shovel. It was the most threatening trip I ever drove. Several times we had to stop, back up, and make a run to get through the snow banks.”
The Williams family not only worked with their neighbors, but also had fun with them.
“For a while, only one family had a television,” Jeannette said. “All the neighbors would gather there to watch shows. Particularly wrestling.” Jeannette remained a wrestling fan into the ‘seventies.
Holidays were very special family events. Glenn and Jeannette would get dressed up in Halloween costumes to go trick or treating with their children: Bob (born in 1931), Don (1937), and Marilyn (1944).
“When we went to bed on Christmas Eve,” Marilyn said, “there was no sign of Christmas in the house. When we got up Christmas morning, it was like magic. The house was decorated, the tree was up, and the presents were under it.”
Just before Christmas one year, Don broke his jaw playing basketball. His jaw was wired shut, so they delayed Christmas until he could eat Christmas dinner with the rest of the family.
For Glenn and his sons, there was another very important holiday: the first day of deer season. They would go hunting near Port Allegany. Later on they build their own hunting camp near Sligo.
“It was great until they strip mined the area,” Glenn said.
About 1955, Glenn, Bob, and Don went to a turkey shoot. They got a total of twelve turkeys. They had to buy their first freezer to keep them from spoiling.
After Glenn retired, he spent more time helping his sons with their businesses. Don was a building contractor, and Bob had an excavating business. But there was a major difference about working in retirement. During all his years at Sharon Steel, Glenn missed a total of 11 days – two sick days and three days off for each of three funerals.
“Like I told Don,” Glenn said, “if I feel like working with you today I will, and if I don’t feel like it tomorrow, I’ll stay home.”
Glenn and Jeannette are justifiably proud of their family.
“They have always been good children,” Glenn said. “We never had any trouble in the family. They help us, and their good to us.”
The family is now greatly extended, with five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. They not only help Glenn and Jeannette out; they also keep them on their toes. Not long ago they dared Jeannette to go for a ride on a motorcycle with her grandson. While they were cruising along State Street at 50 mph, she said to him, “You don’t have to go slow on my account.”
Glenn and Jeannette still live by themselves. They do their own housework, go to the grocery store, and cook their own meals. Glenn still has his own vegetable garden, and up until last year they canned some of the food they grew there.
Throughout the years, Jeannette and Glenn touched a lot of lives. On August 27, 2005, many of them gathered at Buhl Park to celebrate three events: Glenn’s 100th birthday (August 8), Jeannette’s 98th birthday (September 19), and the couple’s 75th wedding anniversary (December 17).
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007.