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Family, community celebrate 105th birthday of West View woman

James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ethel Smyers blows out the candles on her 105th birthday cake surrounded by her children (from left) son Tom Smyers, daughter Barbara Tennyson, son Edward Smyers Jr. and daughter Virginia Cole on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, during a birthday celebration after the Sunday Mass at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in West View.

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By Bethany Hofstetter
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The cold and snow could not keep the Smyers family from coming together to celebrate a special milestone.

Four generations gathered earlier this month to celebrate the 105th birthday of Ethel Smyers, the family matriarch, at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in West View.

The Rev. Bob Norton, pastor of St. Athanasius, said Smyers has been a fixture in the church, and recognizing her on her birthday has become a tradition.

“Being 105 years old and someone who is in church every Sunday, she is an inspiration to me personally and the whole church,” Norton said.

Many of the parishioners joined the family for a birthday party after Mass on Dec. 15 to celebrate with Smyers, who takes her seat in the first pew every Sunday with her son, Tom Smyers.

While many family members live in the North Hills, some of Smyers' family members traveled from as far away as Massachusetts, New York and Texas to celebrate her birthday. All four of Smyers' children gathered around her as she blew out the candle on her cake.

Members of the parish's Christian Mothers group also honored Smyers for being a member for 51 years, and Bishop David Zubik stopped by to give Smyers a birthday blessing.

“I figured it was a good start for the day,” said Smyers, who enjoyed the surprise visit from Zubik.

Smyers' devout faith is something she worked to pass down to her family through words and actions and remains an important part of her everyday life.

“She left a great spiritual legacy to all of us,” daughter Virginia Cole said. “All four of us children have stayed with the faith all our lives.”

Smyers was born to Irish-American parents on Dec. 14, 1908, and grew up in Lawrenceville in the early 1900s.

She attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Lawrenceville, where she learned to play the piano. She then attended a secretarial secondary school.

She met her future husband, Edward, while they were both working in the same office. Several months later they went on their first date and married June 12, 1928.

Smyers and her husband moved to West View where they raised their four children — Edward Smyers Jr., Virginia Cole, and Tom Smyers, all of Shaler, and Barbara Tennyson, of Boston.

Her family now totals 23 grandchildren, 56 great-grandchildren and 14 great-great-grandchildren, with two on the way.

“Every year they get more special,” said Jesse Smyers of Shaler, one of Smyers' grandchildren, about the birthday celebrations. “The older we get, the more precious life is, and to celebrate Grandma's 105th is pretty cool. … She's holds this clan together, she's an inspiration.”

For the centenarian, 105 is just a number. She continues to live in the same home where she and her husband raised their family, writes her own Christmas cards and attends family celebrations.

“It feels great,” Smyers said of her age. “I don't feel any different.”

Smyers, whose husband died in 1991, said she values time with her family.

Son Tom takes her to Mass every Sunday. Daughter Virginia and son Edward Jr. have dinner with her each week. Daughter Barbara calls every evening.

For Smyers, her family and faith will remain her legacy, and she thinks she has been blessed with the life she has lived.

“I had a good marriage and good parents before that,” she said, “so I guess I don't have anything to complain about.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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