Kecksburg area woman celebrates 100th birthday
On the frigid morning of Feb. 28, 1921, 7-year-old Helen Ruth Newill climbed into a horse-drawn carriage with her father, the late Earl C. Newill, and her big brother, the late Andrew Newill, and they began the bumpy ride from the family's Kecksburg home to Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant.
It was there that Helen's mother, the late Edith S. Stairs Newill, had just given birth to her baby sister, the late Jean Newill Porch.
“I remember that ride; boy, was it cold that day,” she said. “Back then, you mostly walked to where you had to go. I don't remember seeing many cars.”
On Aug. 25, Helen Ruth Newill Beal celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends at a party held at Ferrante's Lakeview Restaurant in Hempfield.
“I feel wonderful for my age,” said Beal, who still lives an independent life in Kecksburg. “My nephew (Bill Newill) comes every morning and every afternoon. He brings the newspaper from the mailbox and we sit at the table, we read it and talk about it.”
The party was hosted by her seven nieces and nephews, who all attended the party.
They include Myrna Armbrust of Irwin, Bill Newill and Ruth Ann “Dolly” Queer of Kecksburg, Francis W. Porch of Overland Park, Kan., Penelope Sue Porch of Santa Rosa, Calif., Pamela and Thomas Porch, both of Bella Vista, Ark. Others attending included Beal's nephew, Dick Beal, and his wife, Cathy, of the Erie area, and her 95-year-old sister-in-law, Dorothy Beal, also of Erie.
Also attending were relatives from the Mansfield, Ohio area and Bradford, Pa., and many local friends and other family, including great-great nieces and nephews.
The youngest party-goer was 3-year old Lucinda Armbrust, daughter of great-nephew Doug and Meredith Armbrust of Sewickley.
“I have the most wonderful, caring, loving family of anyone in the whole world. I could never live on my own if it wasn't for them. Some families don't even think of each other ... this one does,” she said.
Growing up in the early 1920s, Beal said she walked more than 2 miles one way each day to Hurst High School for classes.
“We never heard of a school bus,” she quipped.
She worked as a clerk in Leeper's Grocery Store before marrying the late Harry W. Beal on Aug. 16, 1945, in Winchester.
“We were married late, he was 40, and I was 32,” Beal said. “I wondered if my mother thought I'd never leave.”
When she was 43, Beal said she decided to attend Greensburg Beauty Academy to train to become a beautician.
“I did it, and I had my own shop and I loved it,” said Beal, remembering the Kecksburg business, Helen's Beauty Shop.
However, Beal was diagnosed with a heart condition two years later.
“The doctor said not to do too much if I wanted to live a long life, so I had to stop working,” she said.
In 1995, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Harry died in 1998 at age 93.
Throughout her life, Beal said she enjoyed helping to raise her nieces and nephews who love her coconut cream pies and other homemade baked goods made from Newill family recipes.
She is also the self-proclaimed family historian and storyteller.
A diehard Steeler fan, Beal said she watches all the games played by Pittsburgh's National Football League franchise.
Her favorite hobby is reading, especially her Kindle.
“She is still as sharp as a tack,” Dolly Queer said.
Beal is the oldest member of the Kecksburg Church of God, where for many years she taught Sunday school and was a member of the church council.
The Rev. David Stickley, the church's pastor, said he visits Beal, who lives near the church, about once a month.
“Even though she isn't able to attend church much anymore, she still takes a great interest in what's going on,” Stickley said. “She recently purchased a swing for our church pavilion.”
For Beal's 99th birthday, Stickley said he took the whole congregation down to sing to her.
The many gifts Beal received during her recent birthday party included a card from President Barack H. Obama and a citation from the State of Pennsylvania, along with cards, gifts and flowers.
The late Andrew Newill, died in 2000 at age 89 at Beal's home, where his was living at the time.
Jean Newill Porch, who Beal rode in that buggy to meet so long ago, died July 4, 2013, in Bella Vista, Ark. She was 92.
“It still doesn't seem real,” said Beal regarding the passing of her last immediate family member.
As for her longevity, Beal said she attributes a lot of it to staying positive while respecting her limitations.
“You just have to know what you can do and can't do,” she said. “And I'm just so appreciative of everything.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.