TAMPA — By the age of 13, Mary Sprague had faced a crisis that would have buckled most adults — the deaths of her parents.
In 1928, government social services were not what they are today. Thousands of children fell through the cracks. Young Mary ("Spraggy" to other neighborhood children) and her two younger siblings nearly did, too.
The story of Mrs. Ganoung, who died on March 20 at age 93, is one of survival.
A small woman with steely blue eyes, Mrs. Ganoung recounted tales of her youth to her children. She told them about how, at age 11, she retrieved a rose off her mother's casket.
The funeral director made her put it back.
She told them about her father's heart attack two years later. Soon after his death, his new wife kicked all three of his children out of the house.
She told these stories in a matter-of-fact way.
"She wasn't trying to hunt down any sympathy or anything like that," said son Paul Ganoung II, 62.
Mrs. Ganoung feared an orphange would split the siblings. She was probably right, said Penn State University historian Dianne Creagh. At 13, "She was well past the adoptable age," Creagh said. "She might have been farmed out to a training school."
Mrs. Ganoung made a deal with the parents of a friend: A room in exchange for a small stipend her father had left. The children stayed together.
"The stipend was an incredibly resourceful turn of events for her," Creagh said.
She graduated from high school at age 16, got a secretarial job and an apartment for herself and her siblings, Ezra and Clara. She joined a church choir and found release in the music.
She married Paul Ganoung, a commercial artist. In 1958 the family moved to Tampa. Mrs. Ganoung worked as a secretary for Hillsborough County schools for 20 years.
Her first child lived less than a day. Her husband died at age 66.
She thought the grief would kill her. It didn't.
She traveled with friends from Palma Ceia United Methodist Church. They visited the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe. It wasn't the companionship she had planned, but it worked out fine.
She sculpted cats and owls. She enjoyed her apartment in Canterbury Towers, with its view of Tampa Bay. She sat in the living room and read books into a tape recorder. The tapes then would be given to the blind.
She sang with the Tampa Oratorio Singers for at least 35 years, until her eyes could no longer make out the notes.
Jeff Ganoung, 55, said his mother taught him "that almost anything is possible, but you have to believe that you can do it. You have to make it happen."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]