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Helping others fills life for 101-year-old

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Tarpon Springs' newest senior facility, Homewood Residence, had its first big birthday party Wednesday, when resident Marie Wienhusen celebrated her 101st birthday.

She might not remember the details of her life, but she does remember that hers was a life of serving others, one she wouldn't want to change. She did what her mother wanted her to do.

Born Aug. 4, 1898, in West Haven, Conn., she was the third daughter of Mary Hartigan and William J. Collins, who were both born in Ireland. And, while she was Irish, she was not a redhead. No, her hair was black.

Her mother died when she was 9, the youngest of three girls. She remembers that day when her mother "took me up on her lap. She was crying and she said "Marie, you've been a good girl. Mommy is sick. God wants her in heaven. And he wants you to grow up and do good things for the world. I'll always be there to watch over you.' "

After that, her life changed. Her father, who never drank alcohol when his wife was alive, became an alcoholic.

"He was in charge of the boilermaker of the railroad . . . and the Irish had big booze parties," she said. "He would come home drunk and my sisters would nurse him, but these are things I want to forget."

She spent her time "helping at church" or just helping others.

"I'd be walking along the street and see a mother struggling with a child while she was trying to do her laundry. I'd ask her, "Can I help?' and then take the child off for a walk in the pram while she finished the wash."

As soon as she completed grammar school, she went to work as an inspector of watches at the New Haven Clock Co. And she learned to dance _ square dancing at first, and later, ballroom dancing. She got good enough to teach dancing to make extra money.

After working for the watch company, the young Irish woman went to the New Haven Journal Carrier as head of the circulation department.

While teaching dancing, she met the man she married, William Wienhusen, whose family came from Germany. His father, a butcher in the old country, created a successful wholesale meat packing business in New Haven.

William was born with double curvature of the spine.

"His mother nursed him the best she could. I only knew that he had trouble with his spine and couldn't be operated on," she recalled. "I would go to his house every Sunday afternoon to teach his sisters how to dance. Then we would have supper, and William would play the violin. He was very shy.

"Time went on, and he asked me to marry him." They were married in 1933.

But there was never a honeymoon. He fell ill and had to rush back to Connecticut to go into the hospital.

It was her father-in-law who drove her to the the apartment that her new groom had furnished for them. "I had never seen it. I walked in. It had five rooms, and it was beautiful. When he came home from the hospital, I took care of him. . . . I remember how bad he wanted to get out of that hospital room."

Her husband worked at the meat packing office with his father and later ran the business whenthe older man fell ill. "It wasn't a big business. They mostly sold meat wholesale to the small shops in the suburbs," she said.

The young bride decided to find a way to help her husband. So early one morning, she walked into the office.

"My, you're out early," her husband said. She answered, "Show me what to do."

From that morning, she worked beside him every day. She learned how to do the invoices and used the knowledge she had gained from the newspaper job to get the company big accounts.

"We soon had the New Haven Railroad dining cars, and the Yale Law School dining room. I wanted to get him away from these little shops." She was the silent power behind the man.

There were many good times, such as going to the beach with the family, the opera, theater, lots of money, "high style," she called it. "But I never drew a salary. Every Sunday morning there would be $30 laying on my dressing table for household expenses."

He husband died in 1966. He left her well off. Once he told her, "Since you've been in the office, more money has come in. We never had the income before."

But she never got to travel and there was never a honeymoon, or children.

"Our marriage was never about sex. I loved him. He was a good man, and I wanted to help him to have a better life," she said.

After he died, she bought a mobile home park in Florida and last year moved into Homewood.

She intends to leave her money to the Catholic Charities.

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