A century well lived
The year Bethlehem native Miriam Schaeffer was born, Babe Ruth began playing professional baseball for the Red Sox, a proclamation establishing Mother's Day was signed by President Woodrow Wilson, Ford Motor workers' salaries rose to $5 for an eight-hour day of work, and World War I began.
The year, of course, was 1914, and this March 30 Schaeffer celebrated her 100th birthday with dozens of family and friends at the Bethany UCC Church on Market Street. There were balloons, birthday cake and a laudatory citation marking the occasion from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The citation, sponsored and presented in person by State Rep. Steve Samuelson, praised Schaeffer for "demonstrating the highest ideals of citizenship," and for her contributions "to the enrichment and betterment of succeeding generations." In presenting the citation, Samuelson called Schaeffer "a vital and integral member of her community," noting her 40 years as a public school teacher and long-time volunteer service to Meals on Wheels.
Explaining that Schaeffer's actual birthday was the day before, Samuelson joked that the honoree was already on the way to her second 100 years. Adding a personal note, Samuelson revealed that he, Schaeffer and her 95-year old husband John were once neighbors. "She had the friendliest house in the whole neighborhood," Samuelson recalled.
A 1934 graduate of Kutztown Normal School, the centenarian began her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse in Seidersville. After eight years, she had an offer to teach in Bethlehem, and she said she jumped at the chance. She retired in 1974, with an incredible record of never having missed a day of school.
She met her husband of 44 years at Bethany UCC. He was a cousin of one of the church's ministers, and he taught Sunday school there with his future wife. He still sings in the choir every Sunday.
The couple never had children of their own, but Mrs. Schaeffer said, "We have a lot of children that we came in contact with during our life." One of those 'children,' Bethlehem retiree Bob Mantas, was a former student in third grade. He made a point of being at the birthday party to honor his teacher.
It's a given that every centenarian has to be asked what is the secret of long life and good health, so she was asked. Her answer: "I don't know. I know I love everybody – you have to love everybody – there's no reason not to."
"Does everybody love you?" she was asked as a follow-up. Without hesitation, she replied, "I hope they do."