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At 103, she's witness to a remarkable century

When Palm Harbor resident Anna Matz Bronko entered the world on March 21, 1910, she was born into a year of exciting firsts: President William Howard Taft began the tradition of throwing out the first ball on baseball season's opening day; the Boy Scouts of America and Yellow Cab were founded; the first air freight shipment from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio, was undertaken; the first U.S. patent for inventing the traffic light system was issued; New York's Penn Station opened as the world's largest railway terminal; and the first movie stunt man jumped into the Hudson River from a burning balloon.

The Pennsylvanian and her six siblings had to grow up a little quicker than most, having lost their mother when they were young. Her father, Peter Matz, and the older children raised the little ones.

She married Alex Bronko in 1929 and had a daughter, Irene Silverthorn. Over the next few years, the family did its best to weather the Great Depression, eventually moving to Michigan in the late 1930s, where they felt the economy was better.

At the outset of World War II, she worked in the automotive industry to help with the war effort, as did many other women at the time.

When the couple reached retirement age, Florida looked inviting. After she set up residence in Clearwater, four sisters followed her to the city as well. She learned to swim and kept herself busy with bowling, bridge, bingo and travel.

She became a widow in 1995. Age and health issues influenced her move to St. Mark Village Assisted Living Center at Highland Lakes, her home since 2005.

In addition to her daughter, the 103-year-old has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

• • •

On their wedding day, William and Margaret Harper paused for a photograph while standing in the February snow. The groom, in a long wool overcoat and fedora, peers into the future purposefully while his new wife beams and clings to his arm, a corsage of gardenias and roses pinned to the lapel of her blue plaid coat.

Fast forward 72 years and you'll find the Harpers still together and happy, living at St. Mark Village Assisted Living Center at Highland Lakes, Palm Harbor.

William Claude Harper, born June 6, 1919 in Green Camp, Ohio, was a freshman at Mount Zion High when he first saw seventh-grader Margaret Annibel Gerhart, daughter of Christopher and Ida Gerhart of North Robinson, Ohio.

She also noticed the cute boy dressed in knickers and a tam.

During study hall, the teens would send each other love notes. William hid hers in the family piano at home, until his father discovered them.

Margaret was perched on William's lap when he proposed by dangling an engagement ring on his pinkie.

They were united in marriage Feb. 22, 1941 in a quiet ceremony at St. John Evangelical and Reformed Church, Crawford County, Ohio, by the bride's cousin, the Rev. Henry A. Blum.

William worked for Green Elevator Co. before serving in the Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1944. Post-war, he purchased a farm, bought a grocery store, delivered milk and eventually retired as a letter carrier from the U.S. Postal Service in 1972.

Margaret enjoyed farm life and earned money by working in a five-and-dime store. She was employed by a variety of retailers including Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. The mother of three boys was also a Welcome Wagon hostess and hospital volunteer.

The Harpers came to Florida on July 4, 1977. Before moving to St. Mark Village 16 years ago, they lived in Beacon Woods and Highland Lakes.

William likes to socialize, play cards, bowl, and enjoys the challenge of mind-stimulating games; she enjoys sewing, crochet, needlework, cooking, golfing and traveling. They both like to read.

Margaret's advice on a long, successful marriage? "Always be honest and love and respect each other."

• • •

Joseph and Mary Clouse of Palm Harbor recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a family gathering at Bern's Steak House in Tampa and will travel to Michigan later this year for a second party with relatives.

The Clouses married March 18, 1943 in Gulfport, Miss. After a mass at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Canton, Ohio, the couple settled down to life in the South. At that time the region was teeming with enlisted personnel from all branches of the military and cities along the Gulf Coast were booming.

"I loved living in Mississippi," said Mary, recalling the early years of her 70-year marriage. "We used to go to New Orleans. That's where I learned to eat oysters. I don't really like them," she admitted quietly, "but my husband does."

They lived in Mississippi until Joseph's service with the Army Air Forces came to an end in 1946.

The couple moved north to Canton, where he worked 37 years for the Timken Co., and retired as a member of the company's police department.

When Mary contemplated a job outside the home, she told herself it would be for only a couple of years. Great company benefits and other perks enticed her to invest 28 years with Kroger, one of the world's largest grocery retailers, where she retired as a head cashier.

The Clouses vacationed in Palm Harbor every year and enjoyed the area.

"My husband said that's where we're going to retire," Mary recalled.

The prediction came true when the couple retired here in September 1979.

Both enjoy golfing, league bowling and tennis and attend Espiritu Santo Catholic Church, Safety Harbor.

When asked for advice on having a long, happy marriage, Mary chuckled. "My husband says I get to be the boss the first half of the marriage, and he the second," she quipped before offering a more emotional reflection. "We have a happy life and are thankful for everything we can still do."

The Clouses have two children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Mail Good For You items to Nova Beall at 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756; fax to (727) 445-4119; or email nbeall@tampabay.com.

At 103, she's witness to a remarkable century 04/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 4:01pm]

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