Great Aunt Mary Grace would turn 117 this week on October 14 if she were still alive. When I was young, the Longenecker family visited Mary Grace Martin at her cottage at Mt. Gretna, PA. What I remember most about her appearance was her pleasant aura and a gap-toothed smile. To my childish eyes, her teeth looked like widely spaced ivory pegs.


Mary Grace Martin, the only child of a Church of the Brethren pastor, A. L. B. Martin, and my Great-Grandpa Sam Martin’s niece, traveled with her parents all around the country from Long Beach, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Maryland moving from one pastorate to another.


At a time when few women led a professional life and fewer still held advanced degrees, Mary Grace was in the vanguard:

  • A graduate of Goucher College (1921), she taught high school boys, who “thought they knew more than their teacher.” The stint lasted just one year.
  • Mary Grace returned to Goucher College and taught physics to college students – pay $ 75.00/month.
  • Then she earned a master of arts in education degree from Boston University in 1928. A master’s of religious education followed in 1935 from Hartford Seminary Foundation with postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Later she became national children’s editor for the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois.
  • And finally she wrote two books: “Teaching Primary Children” In 1937 and an inter-denominational guide “We Worship Together” in 1948.

Mary Grace vividly remembers the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the end of World War I in 1918. In the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal article, she mentioned that her dad taught her to drive, but chuckled as she remarked she’d rather have a chauffeur. She also preferred cruise ships to air travel.

Years ago, when our family visited Mary Grace in Mt. Gretna, PA, I loved tramping around the fairyland–like ferns and mosses leading up to the steps of her cottage in the dell. Inside, amid plain plank floors and piney furnishings was a gorgeous pump organ that enjoyed pride of place in her tiny living room. That old instrument was the first thing I looked for when I stepped through the screen door. It was an ornate wooden instrument that looked much like this:

Image courtesy of Pump Organ Restorations

Image courtesy of Pump Organ Restorations

From top to bottom, her wheezy pump organ required energy to operate. As I slid onto the swirly seat, I would put my feet on the two pedals each carpeted with a faded, fraying floral design, my knees touching wooden paddles that would make the volume swell or fade, and finally my fingers pulling out or pushing in stops to adjust the tone. It was thrilling to experiment with more than a dozen timbres engraved in Old English Script on the ceramic tags identifying each wooden stop: “Vox Humana,” “Bass Koppler” and “Celeste” which to me sounded like a pretty girl’s name. My favorite pull stop was the fancy word “Diapason” which emitted a majestic, thunderous roll as my knees fanned out to amplify a few bars of “Here Comes the Bride.”

Here two young men enjoy the charms of a vintage pump organ:


“I didn’t expect to live into my 90s, “ Miss Martin said. “Mom lived to be 93 1/2 , but I didn’t think I would repeat that. But God planned otherwise. I’ve had a rich life with travels and many friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”


Mary Grace Martin lived a full life enriched with books, music, and friends. I remember her gentle spirit. Of course, through the years her example has been reflected in my own life, though I certainly didn’t recognize this until now.


Your story fits here: memories of a special relative, maybe an old pump organ, something else this post has sparked in your memory.


Coming next: A Sparkling 40th Wedding Anniversary