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Mary Schoolmaster is 100 going on 60

Mary Schoolmaster enjoys a tender moment with her great-great-granddaughter, Mariah Johnston, during a recent visit. Schoolmaster, 100, has six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren with a seventh on the way. She also has numerous nieces and nephews.  - Josh Johnston / Courtesy photo
Mary Schoolmaster enjoys a tender moment with her great-great-granddaughter, Mariah Johnston, during a recent visit. Schoolmaster, 100, has six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren with a seventh on the way. She also has numerous nieces and nephews.
— image credit: Josh Johnston / Courtesy photo

POULSBO — Here’s what happened on Aug. 6, 1914.

First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson died of Bright's Disease at 54.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia; Serbia declared war against Germany.

The French cavalry entered Belgium. A German Zeppelin bombed Liege, killing nine.

Denis Patrick Dowd Jr., a graduate of Columbia University, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, becoming the first American to fight in the Great War.

And a bundle of tenacity named Mary Bisogno entered the world in Brooklyn, N.Y.

She’s now Mary Schoolmaster, 100 going on 60, who exercises regularly and plays bingo every Wednesday at the West Side Improvement Club in Bremerton. She feels so good she sometimes has to remind herself of her age; she can walk into a room of people with gray hair and feel like she’s the youngest in the room.

Credit her good health to years of daily walks (she customarily walked a mile and a half in 30 minutes), a diet of fresh foods (and olive oil), and some New York moxie.

Schoolmaster was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Metuchen, N.J., where her father opened a barber shop; notables living in Metuchen at the time include novelist Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman.

Schoolmaster’s father had immigrated from Naples, her mother from Campobasso. Schoolmaster was one of eight children. She married — her name was now Mary Lapolla — and had two daughters, Evelyn and Diane. The marriage ended when Evelyn was 8 and Diane, 2, and the young mother raised her daughters on her own. She married again and became Mary Schoolmaster, but that marriage was brief.

“They were friends and probably should have stayed friends,” said Diane, who is now Diane Mahoney of Silverdale.

She worked in an airplane factory during World War II, putting numbers on planes. She was a waitress in a restaurant on Wall Street, then moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked in various positions at O’Donnell’s Sea Grill and, later, at a restaurant in the FBI Building.

She was working in the FBI Building on April 4, 1968 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. African American coworkers smuggled her out of the building and past the rioting that had broken out in the streets. In the ensuing four days, the nation’s capital was chaos: more than 1,000 buildings burned, firefighters were attacked with bottles and rocks, there were violent confrontations with police. The military occupation of Washington was the largest of any U.S. city since the Civil War.

Her car was stolen. Then, she was accosted. A man grabbed her by the neck and tried to drag her into some bushes. She escaped harm because of some quick thinking. Mahoney said her mother told the accoster to take her purse, but that she needed the pills in it because she had cancer, although she didn’t have cancer at the time; a brief bout was several years down the road. The man fled with the purse.

The purse was returned to her the next day by someone who told her he had found it and that it was empty except for some pills he thought she might need. She thought the man might have been the suspect; she went back into her house under the guise of getting the man a cash reward, but he left before she could call police.

Diane and her Navy husband, Jerry, were transferring from Virginia to California and they urged her to follow, which she did. She helped raise her grandsons while Jerry was deployed during the Vietnam War. The family later moved to Kitsap County, where Schoolmaster worked for and then bought Judi’s Sitter Service, which provided child care. Children knew her as the Toy Lady or Mary Poppins.

“Her car was always filled with toys,” Mahoney said. “You couldn’t get a ride in the back seat of her car.”

Schoolmaster retired in her mid- or late-70s, and lived on her own and drove a car until she was 93. She lived with her daughter and son-in-law for five years, and has lived at Martha & Mary for almost two years.

While in Silverdale, she kept up her daily walks. When she was 90, a great-grandson visited from Portland so he could walk the mall with his Nana before he moved out of the area.

“He was so impressed with her energy,” Mahoney said.

Today, Schoolmaster still exercises regularly and walked the halls at Martha & Mary. And she remains devoted to her causes, among them Smile Train, which provides cleft palate surgery to those in need, as well as training to doctors in the region. She had had surgery when she was a child, Mahoney said, and issues faced by Smile Train patients “have always struck a chord with her.”

Schoolmaster’s eldest daughter, Evelyn Hardy, died three years ago. In addition to her daughter Diane, she has six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren with a seventh on the way. She has numerous nieces and nephews, with whom she has a special relationship.

As befitting someone celebrating their 100th year, August has been a month of celebration for Schoolmaster and her family. The Mahoneys hosted a birthday party on the Saturday preceding the actual big day. Then, there was a party at the West Side Improvement Club. Then, the birthday party Aug. 8 at Martha & Mary. And on Aug. 21, she and other Martha & Mary residents with August birthdays were recognized by the non-profit residence.

All told, Martha & Mary has five residents 100 or older. Emeritus at Montclair Park counts three centenarians among its residents, according to Kami Freke, Montclair Park’s community relations director. Liberty Shores/Harbor House is the home of Emma Otis, at 112 the oldest Washingtonian, 11th oldest American and 24th oldest person in the world.

 

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