Bethlehem Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY CAROL SMITH Centanarian Nina Harpel shows her partially completed multicolored afghan. Harpel celebrated her birthday Nov. 13. PRESS PHOTO BY CAROL SMITH Centanarian Nina Harpel shows her partially completed multicolored afghan. Harpel celebrated her birthday Nov. 13.

Centenarian keeps busy working on afghan #58

Thursday, November 21, 2013 by CAROL SMITH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Centanarian Nina Harpel plans to have afghan #58 completed by Christmas. The 100-year-old Harpel, who crossed the century mark Nov. 13, believes staying active is one of the keys to her longevity. "Either use it or lose it," said the white-haired ManorCare resident, who doesn't look a day over 70.

While Harpel has difficulty walking, she keeps her hands and her mind busy with her crocheting projects. The great-great-grandmother hopes to crochet a full bedspread afghan for each family member. In her room, the wall filled with large skeins of many colored yarns promises she won't run out of supplies. With four children, at least 10 grandchildren and almost a dozen great-great grandchildren, she has lots to keep her hands arthritis-free.

Born in 1913 in Harrisburg, Harpel moved to Bethlehem at age 4. Her fondest memories recall playing a card game called "Flinch" and going to Saturday movies at the Nile and the Boyd. During the Depression, everybody was broke and no one had jobs, but it was always possible to find a dime to go to the movies, Harpel said. Coming from a large family, Flinch was a game for many players.

With a loaf of bread costing a nickel, Harpel credits her mom, Laura Garland, with being a good cook and a magician.

"She could make meals out of nothing. We never went hungry," said Harpel, who was the second youngest of seven siblings.

In spite of the hard times, the Bethlehem of the 1930s was a fun place for a child. In the winter, the police would close Chelsea Avenue hill for lots of sleigh rides. In the summer, a child could learn to swim by the Illick's Mill dam, where Harpel said the water was much deeper than it is now.

The Bethlehem Steel played a large role in Harpel's life with both her father and her husband working there.

"It was really Bethlehem Steel that kept Bethlehem alive," said the 1931 Liberty HS graduate.

Harpel married her husband, Clarence Sylvester, always called "CS," in 1933. With no car, dating for Nina, included riding on CS's motorbike to Freemansburg. While Harpel never smokes or drinks, riding a motorbike in those days made her one tough lady, which she remains today.

During WWII, Harpel cheered up her U.S. Army brother, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, by sending hometown news clippings from the Globe newspaper.

Harpel enjoys walnut sundaes and crab cakes, not necessarily in that order.

Harpel's family celebrated her birthday at one of her favorite Bethlehem eateries, the Palace on Stefko Boulevard.

The celebration, health permitting, continues at St. Stephen's Evangelical Lutheran Church's coffee hour on Washington Avenue.

Judging from Harpel's strong will and determination, there's little doubt afghan #58 will be a treasured gift for some family member.

The sole-remaining Garland sibling attributes her full and long life to her genetic background: "I'm just a thickhead - a thickheaded Dutchman."