Nonagenarian Dynamo: A Woman to Remember
By Anita Messina
Lithe and energetic Sally Smith kayaked, canoed and played a round of golf every Friday. And doing it all when she was well into her ninth decade.
The links game gave her pause to consider whether she should continue to play. She watched her once strong fairway shots dwindle to a series of short bounces from tee to green. But weighing the pluses and minuses, she knew it was better to stay on course than retire to the sofa, nursing an aging ego. And when you come right down to it, more swings are better exercise than a hole-in-one.
As an SU freshman she planned to major in physical education, but reluctantly Sally gave into her mother’s advice to major in home economics, a more “lady-like profession” than physical education. She sat through one semester learning how “not” to bake a chocolate cake. “That class,” Sally said “was the start of my migraine headaches.” After a series of failed recipes, her mother agreed maybe she should try “phys-ed” courses. Sally lost no time switching her major from baking to basketball and that’s how Port Byron got an inspiring, popular physical education teacher with an amazing sense of humor.
Sally came to her teaching position with a pre-formed liking for Port Byron because when she was small she had happy visits with her grandmother, Jennie Sprague, who lived here. The house is long gone, and Sally doesn’t remember exactly where the house was.
During Sally’s tenure an interesting turn of events happened at Port Byron High School. During the war years Principal Arthur Gates allowed a World War II rations distribution center to be set up in the cafeteria. Some of his staff – Sally was one – managed the rations assignment. Each woman was sitting at a different table. Now it came to pass that a dapper country gentleman, name of Wilbur Smith, Farmer Wilbur Smith, a Cornell graduate, came in to get his fair share of rations. Mr. Gates met him at the door and said, “Now, Wilbur, you pick out the most beautiful girl here and get your ration book taken care of.”
“Wilbur sat at my table,” Sally said, “his face red as a beet. Well what could the poor man do but sit right down? I was the first table in line.”
Happily Sally and Wilbur moved from rations to romance. They reared two daughters, Gretchen and Sue and one son, Douglas. Sally spoke often of enjoying activities with her six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren at their summer home on Ramona Lake.
Through her last days on this planet Sally was out and about. “Every day I go someplace or do something,” she said. Golf and water sports continued along with volunteer work. She told people: “I can’t do what I used to, but at the very least I’ll bring a dish-to-pass.”
Sally’s Often Requested Salad
1 box of bow pasta
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
Add bacon pieces
Sprinkle on pecans or walnuts
Sally believed that to live with vigor “a hearty salad and a trim figure keep the motor running.” And all through life it’s better exercise to hit a lot of short bounces rather than only one long fairway shot. That’s the sound advice echoing still from Port Byron’s blue ribbon physical education teacher, the one with the mischievous sense of humor. Sally is forever remembered, forever revered.