Pembroke – Margaret King definitely doesn’t look or act her age!
The Rankin-area native who celebrated her 100th birthday last Thursday could easily pass for someone 10 or 15 years younger as witnessed during a small reception honouring her on this significant milestone in her life. She strolled into the auditorium at the St. Joseph’s Non-Profit Housing facility where she has lived the past 21 years, eager to meet her family and friends attending the party in accordance with current COVID regulations.
Mrs. King quickly explained to this reporter she had walked all the way from her second-floor apartment on the other side of the complex to the auditorium, obviously proud of her ability to do so at her age.
Impeccably dressed and certainly not showing any signs of her century of living, she displayed a sharp wit and intellect, recounting her life from its humble beginnings on a Rankin-area farm, then moving to Pembroke, a storybook romance, a move to Toronto, the loss of her spouse, and a return to the Valley.
She was the third eldest daughter of nine children, two of whom died in infancy, of William and Caroline (Melcher) and is one of three surviving today. Her sister, Edie Brumm, who is 91, lives nearby in Pembroke, and brother, Ray Woito, who is 90, lives in Almonte. Her father passed away at age 72 while her mother lived to the grand old age of 97, so there is a history of longevity in her genes.
Her early years were spent on the family farm on Woito Station Road, followed by a move to Pembroke where her father was employed at the old Pembroke “box factory”. Mrs. King recalled her father having a serious injury at work, losing three fingers off his right hand, noting despite the situation, she never once heard him complain.
She attended the west ward school and then moved onto Pembroke High School. After high school, she found employment as a clerk in the shoe department at the Canadian Department Store, which was a subsidiary of Eaton’s, located on the main street. She remained there for five years before moving to Toronto where her sister, Esther, had moved earlier.
Before leaving the Valley, she met a young man, admitting it was love at first sight.
“I fell in love with my husband who I met at Camp Petawawa,” she said as her eyes sparkled, her smile hidden behind the COVID mask. “His name was William MacDonald King.”
She met him at a dance on the base she had attended with her sister. She was 21 and he was 18.
“I fell in love with him as soon as he walked in,” she remarked. “He walked in with his sergeant and I just took one look at him and that was it.
“I didn’t want anybody else,” she added. “He was cute.”
She was standing by the fireplace in the hall when he noticed her, later telling her he told his sergeant she was the girl he was going to marry.
“We danced the whole night away.”
They didn’t see much of each other for some time as he was transferred to another base in Quebec but they did write frequently and communicated by telegraph. Shortly after he returned to Petawawa, he was sent overseas to help with the clean-up as WWII was coming to an end. When he returned several months later, she met him at the train station in Pembroke and he immediately proposed.
They were married in 1946 and lived in Toronto where her husband found work after his discharge.
“He first worked for an electrical company and then he and his brother opened a Petro-Fina garage,” she said.
He later owned a commercial tool supply business, travelling to Hamilton and other cities to pick-up supplies. He suffered a serious heart attack on his route one day in 1975 and was rushed to hospital where he passed away.
Their daughter, Janice was born a year after they married and when not busy being wife and mother, Mrs. King spent her time volunteering at Emmanuel Lutheran Church.
“I had the honour of singing with a choir at the Royal York (hotel) during a Lutheran convention,” she stated. “They came from all over the United States and Canada, and women walked all the way up a flight of stairs to tell me I had a good voice.
“I never got over that, because no one else ever told me that,” she added.
After her husband passed away, her mother, who was also widowed, moved to Toronto to live with her for the next 20 years.
Loves To Travel
Mrs. King loves to travel and she and her late sister, Esther, went on many trips together.
“I’ve been to England, Scotland, and then we took the boat over to Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France. I also went to Hawaii and Puerto Rico and all through the United States.”
She has lived at the St. Joseph’s Non-Profit complex for the past 21 years. The facility is an apartment complex and residents are all self-sufficient, including Mrs. King. She prepares all her own meals, does her own cleaning and laundry. She gets up every morning around 8 o’clock, says her morning prayers, and then has breakfast. She does not eat a lot and tries to eat healthy choices. She never naps during the day and stays up until around 10:30 or 11, so she can watch the news before retiring. She does her own cleaning and once a month, she has a person come in. She calls in her grocery orders and they are delivered to her.
“I love it here,” she remarked. “There’s just a strong feeling of faith and friendliness.
“There’s a lot of friendly people who moved in here from all over,” she added. “I miss so many of them that have died.”
Mrs. King has never played cards in her life, explaining her late father did not approve of the activity when they were young.
“So I’ve never been fond of it. I read a lot and walk the halls. I love to read mysteries and my mother and daughter all loved them.”
She watches some TV, admitting she enjoys “Days of Our Lives,” and the popular mystery show, “Murder She Wrote.”
Mrs. King now weighs 112 pounds and is 4’11’tall. Asked if she was always that weight, she replied, “No, I got fat,” explaining she once weighed 145.
“I tell everybody that’s in here, walk and walk some more. I used to walk downtown three times or more a week. When I moved here, I was 78 then.”
Mrs. King used to enjoy attending the social lunches at the complex which often included entertainment, but they have been cancelled since last March due to COVID.
“They’d have male singers come from Quebec and do old-fashioned music with fiddles and all that. And if you talk to anybody here, they’ll tell you I used to step-dance like you wouldn’t believe.”
When she was 12 years old, her father pulled out his fiddle one night and that was it.
“And up I got. No one taught me. My feet just started to go and they would go faster and faster.”
Mrs. King said COVID has been tough on everyone at the complex.
“I find that they withdraw a lot with this darn thing (points to her mask) and the distances we have to stand. It made us all very leery.”
She has not yet been vaccinated and isn’t really interested in getting the shot when it is available.
“I feel I have to trust God and that’s the way I look at it and if I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it. That could be my age that’s talking right now.”
When asked the reason for her longevity, she quickly replied, “One word, G-O-D.”
“That is who I trust and that is who I believe is keeping me,” she added. “I ask Him in my prayers what is the reason, why do you want me here.”
She shared how, when her husband passed away, she felt he was in a better place, noting she was delighted when he started attending church some 10 years after they were married.
“And I didn’t have to pound him on the head, he asked if he could come,” she recalled.
Mrs. King said people have told her she is an inspiration to others by the way she lives.
“Apparently, I am living the right way.”
Every Sunday, her niece, Susan Dupuis, takes her to Zion Lutheran Church, where she attended as a child. The minister recognized her milestone during the service and two men from the congregation sang her favourite hymn to honour her.
Inspiration To Others
John Berrigan, the administrator at St. Joseph’s, said he has been on the job since Mrs. King moved in, agreeing she is in great shape for her age. He says she is a real inspiration to other residents.
“She’s very upbeat, active and stylish and she doesn’t act her age for sure,” he remarked.
He said Mrs. King has a large network of friends, adding she loves to dance at the social functions.
“She’s living her life very well and enjoying it,” he added.
He stressed the facility is not classified as a home for the aged or a retirement home, but a retirement building.
“We don’t normally get to keep people that long because they move on when they can’t live independently anymore.”