At 100, she feels 16

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Marti Mattingly of Jasper, 100, held Jasper the dog during her birthday party Thursday at Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper. Mattingly’s friends and family gathered for a birthday party in her honor, and family is traveling from as far as England to see Mattingly as she celebrates the milestone birthday. The dog belongs to Shirley Harter, the activity director at Northwood, where Mattingly has lived for four years.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Marti Mattingly is celebrating her new centenarian status twice.

Family and friends held at birthday party for her at the Northwood Retirement Community on Thursday, her birthday. Her family from South Carolina and Virginia, including her son Richard Lee, were there.

When the rest of her family comes in — her grandson from England and her granddaughter from Henryville — the family will have another party Saturday.

Being a people person, Marti loved the interaction.

“I love being around people,” she said Wednesday afternoon, her birthday eve. “I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t talk to people.”

Marti is one of the more social residents at Northwood. She spends her evenings at The Crossroads — the open area in the middle of Northwood where the resident hallways cross — talking to passersby and asking residents how their day is going. She is pretty much a fixture there, Activities Director Shirley Harter said.

“I like being nice to people. It makes you feel good,” Marti said. “Even if it’s someone I don’t like — and there’s not many of those — I’m still nice to them. You might rub off on them.”

Marti has always interacted with others. In her lifetime, she’s gone to dances with her parents as a child, worked at a couple of factories — one when she was a teenager to help pay for her mother’s cancer medication — married and raised four children, bowled in Hawaii, visited England to see her grandson and in her early 80s traveled to Brazil with her girlfriends.

“I’ve had a good life,” Marti said. “I like my experiences I’ve had in my life. I can’t say anything bad about them.”

Marti was born Martinell Dietz in Washington on Jan. 16, 1914 to Martin and Ola (Herron) Dietz. Her name is a combination of her dad’s name and her mother’s sister Nell’s name.

“I’d go to dances with mother and father. They were the best waltzers,” Marti recalled, closing her eyes and swaying side to side. “I can still see them dancing. They were beautiful together.”

While waiting to eat cake at a birthday party in her honor at Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper, Mattingly laughed with her son Richard Thompson, left, and granddaughter Stephanie McBroom, both of Roanoke, Va.

Marti got a chance to dance with her father as well. “He was so light on his feet,” she said. “He was so smooth.”

In Marti’s early teens, her mother developed cancer. “My grandmothers stepped in to help take care of us and take care of my mother,” Marti said. “I helped out, too.”

She stopped going to school at grade six to work at a canning factory. The money was used to help pay for her mother’s medication. Her mother died when Marti was about 15.

Marti met her husband, Richard Mattingly of Elnora, at a blind date at a basketball game. But it wasn’t love at first sight.

“He had to work at it very hard,” she said. “He was a nice person; I guess that was the beginning of it. But he didn’t sweep me off my feet, not at first.”

He also wasn’t as into dancing like she was. “He wasn’t much of a dancer. But he really tried.”

Richard traveled the 18 miles from Elnora to Washington to take Marti to dances and on other dates.

Marti’s youngest daughter, Janna Messmer, recalled a story Marti told her about one of their dates.

“She’d gone out on a date that afternoon and dad was to come take her to the movies that evening.

She had about 15 minutes to get ready for it,” Messmer said. “While the other guy was going out the back door, dad was coming in the front. Someone had to stall him a little bit until she was ready.”

Richard did finally win her over; they got married in 1933. The next year, they had their first child, Richard Lee. Three girls followed: Marzell Ann, Diane Lou and Janna Lynn.

“Yeah, I had one son and three stinkin’ girls,” Marti said with a smile. “But I love them all. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Richard worked at his family’s hardware store in Elnora. Marti worked at U.S. Rubber in Washington, making parachutes during World War II; after that, her primary job was sewing sleeves on raincoats.

Richard died in the early 1970s. Marti kept going with life.

Janna Messmer of Jasper cut a birthday cake for her mother, Marti Mattingly, who celebrated her 100th birthday Thursday at Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper.

“I stayed active,” she said. “I think that’s what’s helped me.”

She joined at bowling league in Washington; she went with her team to a competition in Hawaii in her 50s. She continued to dance, going with friends and her daughters Marzell and Janna.

And she never drove, Janna said. “Never drove a car, but we never knew where she was,” Janna said. “If there was a dance at the Moose, mom got there, no matter what.”

In the four years she’s been at Northwood, Marti has stayed busy. Besides hanging out at The Crossroads, she attends music programs, plays with dogs brought to the facility, colors pictures and bowls with fellow residents.

She still dances, though it’s from her seat now.

“I can still dance in my dreams,” she said. “I do sometimes.”

Richard Lee now lives in Roanoke, Va. Marzell Ann Jerger and Diane Lou Brewer live in Washington.

Janna Lynn Messmer lives in Jasper and has worked at Northwood for the last 19 years. Along with her four children, Marti has seven grandchildren, one of whom is deceased, and 11 great-grandchildren. They will all be at Saturday’s party.

When someone mentioned her reaching a century in age, she looked surprised.

“I don’t feel that old. I feel about 16,” she said. “I think you’re as old as you feel. I don’t think I’ll ever get old.”

Contact Candy Neal.

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