Monday, February 20, 2012

TOP STORY >> At 102, she lives life fo its fullest

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville resident Rachel Hanlin has been bringing beauty and joy to those around her for more than a century.

That was obvious as people lined up to hug and get a kiss on the cheek during her 102nd birthday celebration Wednesday at the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center. Hanlin goes there almost every day.

“She’s the sweetest little thing. Every time I hug her she gives me a kiss. I wrote on her card that I like to kiss too,” said Mary Caruth, another senior enjoying the party.

Hanlin was born on Feb. 15, 1910, in Johnstown, Penn., where she spent her first 99 years.

She now lives with one of her three daughters, Kathy Tilley of Jacksonville.

Hanlin has been writing poetry and doing a variety of art “since grade school.” Her poetry is compiled into a book titled “Rays from Rae.” Rae is Hanlin’s nickname.

She experimented with painting and wood burning but is now working on collages.

Hanlin said, “My mother and daddy would ask where’d you get this and I said ‘in here,’” and she pointed at her heart.

Hanlin’s eldest daughter, Sara Allen, who lives in England, flew in this week to celebrate her mother’s birthday. 

Allen said her mom’s first job was as a seamstress doing hems for a woman who paid her $1 per hem.

Hanlin is the last surviving member of the Johnstown High School class of 1927.

After graduation, she didn’t go to college. It was common to go straight to work and she got started at Bethlehem Steel.

Hanlin held a variety of jobs, but “she’s always been very people-involved,” her daughter said.

The centenarian was a receptionist at a hotel, a senior center and a sanatorium. She worked until age 89.

Hanlin met her husband while she was in her 20s. He owned The Cookie Jar, a small bakery she designed the logo for. The couple was married for 27 years before they divorced.

After that, Hanlin struggled financially, her daughter said. But her spirit stayed strong because of her faith and her passion for art.

“As soon as she gets upset about something she takes out her art supplies. I wish I could block out negativity like she does. That’s the secret,” Allen said.

One time, things were so tough that her mother couldn’t afford car insurance when she was driving in snow and ice every day to work. Hanlin’s brother bought the insurance and the next day she was hit by another car.

“She (Hanlin) said, ‘See, as long as the Lord watched over me I was OK. I was alright, as soon as you bought it, it jinxed me,”’ Allen explained.

Hanlin has three daughters, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

She doesn’t take any medication except for vitamins and an occasional Tylenol to help with her knee pain. Her hearing is nearly gone, but Allen said her mother had told her that if anything were going to go then that would be the easiest to deal with.

Hanlin’s mother was one of the first registered nurses in Johnstown. Hanlin had a wonderful relationship with her father, who would give her his last nickel to ride the trolley home. He would walk three miles, but he couldn’t let his little girl do that if he could help it.