Mildred Schmidt has always held friendships close to her heart, and that was the case when her Mountlake Terrace friends gathered to celebrate the centurion’s birthday at Merrill Gardens this week.
Also in attendance for the fete was Mildred’s niece Carol Thompson, who assisted in telling Mildred’s story:
Mildred was born 100 years ago on Dec. 5, 1915 in Schenectady, New York. Her father, Henry Schmidt, had emigrated from Germany. He worked for General Electric. Her mother, Elin Olsen, emigrated from Sweden. Mildred was two years older than her only sibling Walter, who died in 2004.
When Mildred was 11, her father changed jobs and the family moved to Syracuse, N.Y.
Mildred lived in Syracuse until 1937 when she graduated from Syracuse University with a major in math and statistics. Her family then moved to Brooklyn, New York.
After college Mildred aspired to be a high school math teacher. She applied to many schools and was told that although she was well qualified to teach math, she was not qualified to take on the other duties of the math teacher, such as coaching football. Eventually Mildred looked to other vocations.
As Carol tells it, “Her first job was as a statistical typist, where she became known for her accuracy.”
While living in Brooklyn, Mildred commuted to her job in Manhattan, where she worked for NBC. Of Manhattan, she tells MLTnews, “It was so lively! There were so many restaurants and things to do! This was the favorite time of my life.” For the 15 years Mildred was with NBC, she did statistical analysis. She also made several life-long friends.
Mildred stayed in Manhattan for her next job, working for the advertising firm of BBD&O (now BBD&O Worldwide), again doing statistical research and analysis. She worked for BBD&O for 10 years.
According to Carol, “Mildred was the first person to program their new mainframe computer when it arrived. Many of her programs continued in use years after she left the firm. For the balance of her career she always worked with computers.”
In 1963, after the death of her parents, Mildred moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For 50 years Manhattan was her jumping off spot for extensive traveling. Her travels included reunions with Swedish and German relatives. She also went on many group tours with AARP after she retired. Mildred took her last trip when she was in her early 90s.
Her niece tells of Mildred’s current pastime: “Aunt Mildred’s passion has always been, and continues to be, reading. She has read the New Yorker magazine and The New York Times faithfully for over 75 years. In addition, she always has a book going. She did crossword puzzles regularly until about five years ago. She could master The New York Times puzzle in no time.”
She kept physically active by swimming several times a week until she reached her early 90s. Also while in her 90s Mildred took up Tai Chi and practiced it until the classes were discontinued.
Mildred moved to Merrill Gardens in April 2014 after what her niece characterizes as “gentle but persistent nudging from her family”.
“We are delighted that she finally consented to relocate,” Thompson said. “We are very glad to have her close by.” And so are her new Merrill Gardens friends Dorine Overton, who celebrated her 100th birthday last month, and Eleanor Kurtzweg, whose 100th birthday will arrive in the next few months.
To celebrate her friend’s birthday, author and poet 99-year-old Eleanor penned these words, which she read at the Merrill Gardens celebration:
As we grow older and reminisce of days of yore,
We realize there have been changes by the score.
Use of electricity was not widespread,
So homes were heated and cooking was done with coal and wood.
Cakes, pies and bread were “homebaked” and oh so good!
Since there was no refrigeration to be had,
Fruit, vegetables and meat were canned so as not to go bad.
There were no machines to milk the cow,
So many a child had to learn how.
Butter was made by churning the cream,
In winter ice cream was everyone’s dream.
Running water was not available for a spell,
Water was brought by pail-fulls from a well.
Clothes were washed by hand with a bar of lye,
And hung on a line outside to dry.
At night flickering lights in houses could be seen,
Lighted by candles or lamps filled with kerosene.
Days of radio and TV were still to come,
Children read books and played games for fun.
Schools were sometimes a one-room affair,
And children of all ages went there.
Horses were used for transportation and to plow the land.
Most of the seeding was done by hand.
At first people shied away from buying the Model T,
But the found what an asset it could be.
The car industry grew by leaps and bounds,
Now many brands, shapes and models can be found.
The Wright Brothers took their plane on its first flight,
Now planes fly everywhere day and night.
This knowledge opened the door, so manned outer space
We could explore.
Astronauts were sent to the moon,
And other space travel began very soon.
JC Penney, Sears and Montgomery paved the way,
For the malls that we have today.
Perhaps the biggest change of all,
Was abandonment of the telephone on the wall.
With the advent of cell, iSmart phones and such,
One can text, Twitter, and take pictures by touch!
The computers allows messages to be sent,
The internet keeps people content.
In this lifetime we’ve had two depressions, three wars;
We’ve even seen terrorists threaten our shores.
There have been advances in the medical field,
And modern technology will more wonders yield.
It is fun to look back on the “Good Old Days”,
But I am sure we all enjoy some of the modern ways.
~ The Modern Ways by Eleanor Kurtzweg, January 2015
— Story and photo by Emily Hill