Work, kindness mark local woman’s 100 years

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Melvindale resident Hazel Hawthorne (second from left), who celebrated her 100th birthday May 28, enjoys teaching her 8-year-old great-grandson, Grant Holliday (left) of Ypsilanti, to play cards. She lives with her daughter Linda Hawthorne-Held (right).

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

MELVINDALE – Hazel Hawthorne has seen a lot of changes in her 100 years, but one of the first still ranks among the biggest.

When she was just 7 years old, her father moved the family from the modern city of Detroit, where she was born, to a rural 35-acre farm without electricity or indoor plumbing. That farm was on Ford Road in what is now Dearborn.

“I know that doesn’t sound like a great distance, but you will have to imagine what it looked like in 1917,” said Hawthorne, who celebrated her century mark May 28. “There were all dirt roads, and the area was basically farmland.”

She walked a mile and a half to a one-room schoolhouse that served about 35 students in first through eighth grades. Hawthorne loved school and was disappointed when her father wouldn’t pay the $60 a year for her to go to high school.

“It seems like education is taken for granted today, but from my experience, it’s a gift that can only enrich your life,” she said.

Work has enhanced hers, including a job in her teen years in the Inkster post office and at different department stores, including Landsberg Dry Goods. Hawthorne sought out every opportunity to learn something new at each job.

“Intuitively, I believe I always understood how important it was to have an education even back then,” she said. “The desire to learn has always been a constant in my life, and continues to this very day.”

Because of declining eyesight, Hawthorne listens to books on tape and especially enjoys biographies. She also likes to listen to political talk shows on television.

John F. Kennedy was her favorite president, and Woodrow Wilson is the first president she can remember. Hawthorne hopes to someday see a woman become president and was disappointed when Hillary Clinton didn’t receive the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Hawthorne has, however, seen many other advances in society and technology, citing central air conditioning as one of the modern conveniences she appreciates most.

On her family’s first television in 1949 — an oval Muntz — she would watch Bob Hope, old movies and soap operas. She had listened to “Just Plain Bill” and “The Guiding Light” on the radio, and watched the latter when it moved to television until it went off the air last year.

Hawthorne’s first car was a 1936 or 1937 Ford Model A. Because her father worked at Ford Motor Co., she always drove the company’s products, a tradition dating as far back as 1918, when her Uncle Fred had one.

She continued to drive even after breaking a hip in 1989, when she was hit by a car. But when she broke the other hip in 1992 slipping on pavement, Hawthorne decided it was time to stop driving.

Early on, her traditional farm existence was mixed in with exposure to the modern marvels of the then-new century. Hawthorne’s appendix was removed just before it burst in a hospital when she was 7.

And though it may sound strange to today’s women, she recalls wearing pants — known as “knickers” at the time — while working on the farm. Such work sometimes consisted of an early form of multitasking: watching cows to keep them out of the road she while embroidering blouses for pay or reading.

At 15 she took her first airplane ride when a small plane stopped in a farmer’s field and offered rides for $3 per passenger. She had her own money by then, and paid for her ride.

Hawthorne married her husband, John, at age 27 in 1938, and remained happily married for 45 years until his death. They raised three daughters: Donna, born in 1941, Linda, whom she lives with, born in 1947, and Rhonda, born in 1950.

They often traveled in their Nash when their daughters were young, camping or staying in motels, going as far as California and Florida. Her husband initially worked in a Pennsylvania steel mill before moving the in 1947. He then worked for Ford at the Rotunda, and later for Ford Glass.

The couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary with a family party at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn.

All three daughters are still alive, and between them have produced seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Fortunately for her and for them, longevity runs in the family. Hawthorne’s Aunt Emma lived to 103, and her Aunt Gusty was nearly 100. Her father lived to age 90, and her mother lived 83 years.

The best advice Hawthorne can give others is to pick friends who are “clean living, with no smoking or drugging.”
She enjoys life and likes to be around other people. Hawthorne enjoys seeing baby pictures of her latest great-grandchild on Linda’s Facebook page.

Hawthorne’s family was of German ancestry, and she was raised in the Lutheran Church and formerly attended St. Paul’s, an American Lutheran Church in Dearborn.

She now follows the Lawsonian religion, which believes in natural law and teaches people to be kind to each other.

“I know there is a place you go to after you die,” Hawthorne said. “What you do in this life gives you a better chance of coming back in another. I want to come back as a better person.

“The most important thing is how you treat others and how they treat you. When it’s time for me to go, I hope the Lord lets me go peacefully in my sleep.

“I hope he pats me on the back and says, ‘Good job, Hazel.’”

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