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Hometown treasure: Erda Simons

| Monday, May 28, 2007

When 91-year-old Erda Simons was a teenager growing up in New Kensington, she liked to spend her Friday nights in costume at the nearest sock hop.

She doesn't dance so much nowadays. But she still clips on a pair of bunny ears or shamrock buttons as the season dictates.

"I might be old in years, but I'm young at heart," she said. "Just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there isn't a fire in the furnace."

For the past 18 years, Simons has worked as a front-desk clerk at the New Kensington branch of the Valley Points Family YMCA.

She's popular with the YMCA's morning regulars for her festive holiday outfits.

As a tribute to her dedication and vigor, Simons was awarded a Spirit of the YMCA award in 2006.

Simons was born in a homestead along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington. She attended St. Joseph Elementary School and graduated from New Kensington High School in 1932. She then went to work as a switchboard operator for Bell Telephone Co.

At the age of 25, the then-Erda Scholze married Coy Lingenfelter from Kittanning. Lingenfelter died two days after their first daughter, Erda Carol Overly, was born.

After her husband's death, Erda returned to New Kensington to live with her mother and father.

She remarried in 1951 to mortician John Simons. In 1953, Simons gave birth to her second daughter, Suzann Simons.

When her husband opted to become a janitor at St. Joseph Church, she picked up successive jobs at Miller Brothers Shoes and the Gaylords department store. She worked at Gaylords until it closed in the early 1970s.

She returned to work around 1989, when she saw a Westmoreland County Community College ad in a senior citizens' newsletter. The ad called for able-bodied senior citizens to apply for clerk positions in neighborhood affiliates of the college.

Simons was placed at the New Kensington YMCA.

"I got tired of being at home," she said. "I was used to being out in public."

Simons always has had a silly streak, she said.

Halloween dances and masquerades she attended -- and later chaperoned -- for the St. Joseph Church Catholic Youth Organization gave her a chance to slap on a sheet or a mask and work the party.

At one event, she wore pajamas, a mask and a sign promising a dance and a kiss to anyone who guessed who she was.

Simons wouldn't say how many kisses she gave out that night.

In addition to her work at the YMCA, Simons enjoys working crossword puzzles -- and playing poker with anyone willing to try their hand against her.

"I'm old, but I love life," she said.

Additional Information:

Erda Simons

Age: 91.

Hometown: New Kensington.

Family: Daughters Erda Carol Overly, Suzann Simons; six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren.

Favorite thing about the Valley: 'It's a small town, and it's homey.'

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