- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

FANNETTSBURG, Pa. (AP) - For a child who doctors believed would not live past the age of 7, Miriam Park has packed in a lot of life into her 100 years.

Born April 12, 1915, to Walter and Annie Martin in Lancaster, she had a weak heart that she has since learned is arrhythmia.

It hasn’t stopped her for a minute, and last week she turned 100.

In 1936 Miriam married Harold Park, whose family, until very recently, held deed to a William Penn land grant in Metal Township. Harold had begun a career with the Rural Electrification Administration, a federal program created in 1935 to take electricity to all of rural America and the world. As a rate analyst, he was the best at what he did, Miriam said in an April 6 interview with Public Opinion, and the couple would travel the world because of his work.

It was a life Miriam could hardly have dreamed of as a teenager. As one of 14 siblings, there was no question that instead of finishing high school, she would leave school at age 14, as each child did in his turn, to help support the large family. She found a succession of jobs as a companion to two different older ladies, an errand girl in an umbrella factory, in a dentist’s office and as a bookkeeper and secretary. She continued to take college-level courses on her own after leaving school.

At age 17, in a fairy-tale dream come true, Miriam danced with a prince.

She was blushing even as she told the story.

At the time, she was companion to a woman whose nephew was the prince (not the crown prince) of Denmark. He spent a couple months in Lancaster visiting with his aunt. When he attended a local dance, the prince caused Miriam some embarrassment. With a deep bow, he would ask a girl to dance with him. Each time he bowed, all the girls would giggle. After a few dances with a few different partners, he asked Miriam, “Why the laughing?”

“I told him, kind of shy, ‘Please don’t bow to them. We don’t do that here.’”

Miriam said she would sneak into his room to pull the hair out of his comb and smell it - oh! It smelled so good.

The Park couple raised their children in Washington, D.C., where Miriam found herself in a job as a school crossing guard at an intersection near her children’s school. The policemen on duty would habitually walk over to talk with her when time permitted. Once, while chatting with an officer, she brought his attention to a car that was illegally parked.

“That’s the (police) captain’s car, he’s allowed to park there,” said the officer. But when the captain appeared and greeted them, Miriam said, “Do you know you are illegally parked?”

“Yes I am, and thank you, Mrs. Park, for pointing that out,” he replied. The captain later told her, “You’ll always have a job with the police department. We’ll make a job for you.”

Miriam keeps a list of notable people she has met, including the actress Helen Hayes, whom she met on an elevator full of people. Miriam was wearing a white hat with red roses. When the elevator stopped on the first floor the actress’ voice rang out, “Everyone can get out except that woman.” She was pointing to Miriam.

Nobody moved. They all wanted to see why: Helen Hayes adored that hat and tried to sweet-talk Miriam into giving it to her.

“I kept the hat,” she said with a mischievous grin.

Her wardrobe got her into trouble again at an event in which the evangelist Billy Graham was speaking. Miriam noticed her outfit - clear up to the hat - was identical to one being worn by well-known Christian author and speaker, Catherine Marshall. Several times that day, Mr. Graham passed by Miriam and each time he would shake her hand with a hearty “God bless you.”

“He blessed me three times,” she said, “and I’ll bet Catherine Marshall was blessing me, too!”

Miriam met and held hands with Mamie Eisenhower at a doll tea, and she pampered that hand for weeks after. “I wasn’t the woman who was supposed to show her around, but once she took hold of my hand, I wasn’t about to let go,” she giggled.

In addition to every U.S. state, Miriam has been to Hong Kong, Japan, England, Italy, France, Switzerland and Inuit islands off the west coast of Canada. On a six-week visit to the Philippines, she attended a dinner and was served a meat that “was kind of round.” It tasted good, she said, and she later asked someone what it was.

“That was rat,” the man replied. Seeing the horrified look on her face, he added, “But don’t worry. They’re domesticated rats. They’re fed nothing but corn.”

Retiring in Fannettsburg, the Parks helped found Fannettsburg Wildlife Foundation to preserve Fannettsburg Lake and helped organize Val-Med health center in Path Valley. They wrote two books - a history of Upper Path Valley Presbyterian Church and a general genealogy of their families.

Harold died in 2011 at the age of 99 years and 5 months.

Miriam continuously took college courses wherever she lived, including at Wilson College and Shippensburg University. She now spends her days quilting, reading and crocheting in her home near her two daughters, Kathryn and Marion. Her two sons are no longer living - one died as a child - but Miriam also has five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren. She tells them her stories whenever she can.

She’s kept a diary of her adventures, said Kathryn. “We’re going to keep it so when she passes, all the children will get to know who she was.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1OeWeZY

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Information from: Public Opinion, https://www.publicopiniononline.com

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