July 2015

Marking a 100th birthday ... independently

Mae Gerhart with her daughter, Renee Neiman, and her one-year-old great-granddaughter.

Oval glasses and silvery-white hair frame Mae Gerhart’s face as she leads a guest to her accommodations at The Lutheran Home at Topton. She is getting ready to celebrate her July birthday with her family.

And this is a special birthday—it's her 100th.

But it's special in another way because Mae Gerhart is not a resident of the nursing care center at The Lutheran Home at Topton, or even its personal care center. Rather, she lives in one of the apartments on the senior living community's campus ... as an independent living resident!

Gerhart's answer to questions abou how she stays spry comes quickly: "I love the Lord, that’s the first thing, and I take walks, and I eat right and I pray and I guess that’s it.”

The oldest of three children who loved her brother and sister dearly, Gerhart attended church and Sunday school every Sunday with her family. “It was a good family. My mother was one of 14 children, like Ralph (Gerhart’s late husband) was. They lived in the country on farms and every Sunday we went to visit at one of the farms; every Sunday,” she says, smiling and adding: “We had a good family life.”

Our family is very close; if there is any way she can help, she will .... 

“She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met," says Lauren Fairchild, activities coordinator for independent living at The Lutheran Home at Topton. "She always has a positive attitude. She’s always greeting people. She’s so friendly; she’s a bright star here. She’s so grateful for the life she has had.”

“There’s always been love in our family,” says daughter Renee Neiman. “Our family is very close. When one needs help, the others are always there. If there is any way that she can help us, she will.”

Ralph and Mae Gerhart lived near Carsonia Lake for more than 30 years. She served as a legal secretary for judges and attorneys, while Ralph was a steel worker at Carpenter Technology. In their early years, she says, you could buy bread for 50 cents and gas for a dollar a gallon. Renee became part of their lives through adoption. Family reunions and picnics were always a major part of their lives.

“My husband and I loved to have parties," she says. "We always had a lot of people at the house for holidays. It was always hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad. We had a big house with a big patio ... back near the creek and we always had company."

One special memory involves her initial experiences driving their first car, a Plymouth. 

“Ralph really trusted me," she says, smiling. "I think it was because he taught me! Once he taught me, I was a pretty good driver and I drove a lot.”

At first, though, her husband sat beside her giving constant directions, she says: "'Don’t do that. Turn here. You’re driving too fast. Go ahead of this car.' He was always giving me directions." When the time came, however, it was she who taught their daughter how to drive.

Family gathering: Front, l-r, Renee Neiman, Mae Gerhart, and Niki Brennan; back, Nicole and Greg Neiman with Ashlyn, Tom Neiman, Michael Neiman, and Jeremy Brennan. Collin Neiman, 17, was not able to be present for the photograph.

The Gerharts were always active and went on many bus trips and cruises with destinations such as Florida, New England, Wildwood, Bermuda, Hawaii, and Nassau. “We liked Bermuda because there was a lot to do in terms of activities," she says. 

Today, the 100-year-old remains active, participating in a range of programs at Topton including a sing-along group and even yoga classes. 

“My yoga is plenty of things with the arms,” she explains, throwing her arms up and out to demonstrate her workout. “We do a lot of things with the legs and I do that even here watching television. I do the legs and I do this and up"—she raises her arms—"so that I don’t only do yoga there, I do it here, too.”

“She keeps herself pretty limber,” agrees Neiman.

In addition to getting lots of exercise, she says, "I eat well. I have a neighbor who always gives me my lunch. Bertha [Bennicoff] does a lot of things for me. She is wonderful to me.”


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Luther Crest resident-volunteers oversee effort to gain arboretum accreditation

Black oaks on the campus of Luther Crest, now an accredited arboretum. The oak is a native of North America, produces a fruit called acorns and is considered a valuable lumber tree.

Most senior living campuses have trees, sometimes lots of them. Luther Crest is special, however, in that the Allentown, Pennsylvania, campus is now officially recognized as an arboretum, one of only 14 in Pennsylvania.

The campus was accredited as a Level 1 Arboretum by the ArbNet accreditation program. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, Botanic Gardens International, and the American Public Gardens Association sponsor this program.

“Two years ago, the arboretum was only an idea. Today, it’s a reality,” says Frances Jennings, chair of Luther Crest’s environment committee. “We have identified 45 different species and have labeled them.”

The effort to be accredited as an arboretum, Jennings says, was done with the guidance of resident Dr. Marion Kayhart.

'This is a contribution not only to Luther Crest, but also to the region'

After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and specializing in genetics, Kayhart took a position at Cedar Crest College in the biology department. “A graduate student of Marion’s told me recently, ‘Miss Jennings, you have no idea how many women Dr. Kayhart has helped to become professionals,’ Jennings related at the June dedication of the arboretum. Kayhart received a standing ovation.

Luther Crest’s arboretum consists of a mixture of coniferous, deciduous, and ornamental trees. Kermit Roth, also a member of the environment committee, established the memorial tree project. There currently are 25 memorial trees on the campus with more arriving in the fall.

Having planted one of the trees donated by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, dedication participants pose for a photo. From left to right are, rear, Mark Pile, Scot Medbury, and the Rev. Dr. Paul Buehrle; front, Frances Jennings and Dr. Marion Kayhart.

This is “a phenomenal accomplishment,” says Scot Medbury, president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, who served as featured speaker for the opening ceremony. He has been involved with the curation, cultivation, and interpretation of botanical collections for more than 30 years and currently serves on the governing councils of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Center for Plant Conservation, and the International Dendrology Society; he also serves as advisor to four American public gardens.

Creating an arboretum is “hard to do—and to have done it with such a small group of volunteers!” Medbury notes. “That is pretty special.”

Medbury has given the Luther Crest Arboretum three cultivated magnolia trees from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which created the first yellow-flowering magnolias in the world. By hybridizing Asian species with big white flowers with North American species that had really tiny, almost-didn’t-see-them yellow flowers, they eventually created large yellow-colored cultivars.

The trees, Medbury says, have “a very rich golden-yellow flower with a purple throat and are probably really well-suited to the Lehigh Valley because [the tree] flowers in late May as the leaves are emerging. Magnolias in colder climates can get frost-nipped if there’s a late frost.”

The arboretum “is a remarkable achievement,” says Donald Moore, Luther Crest resident and also a former president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “The arboretum is a big benefit to retired people who love good landscaping and attractive flowers and all that sort of thing,” adds the Rev. Dr. Paul Buehrle, another Luther Crest resident and former head of The Lutheran Home at Topton, whose ministries Diakon continues.

“I thought having an arboretum would be very nice for the community,” says Kayhart. “We have specimen trees that have come from various origins actually, but all of them now are grown here in this country. My favorite tree is the Korean Mountain Ash.” In the spring, the tree displays long shards of white petals, while in the summer it produces small green berries that turn red in the fall. She says the birds love those berries.

“We will make the arboretum available for educational purposes to schools and local garden clubs and organizations,” she adds.

The arboretum includes three walks featuring 42 labeled trees. Booklets provide instructions for the walks as well as notes about each of the labeled trees. “We’ve given a little historical, biological, and ecological background for each tree,” notes Kayhart.

Highlights of Walk One are the Ginkgo trees, says Kayhart. “They had been around since the dinosaur era,” she says. “The highlight for Walk Two would be the Hawthorne over near the cottages and Walk Three is where we could come to that Korean Mountain Ash.”

“And along the periphery, there is a Shagbark Hickory, which is very old and part of the original forest of the area,” Jennings adds. 

Trees found on the each of the three walks are identified with a metal stake supporting an engraved plate with the common name of the tree and its scientific. These labels were purchased with the help of the community’s gift shop and assembled by Luther Crest's maintenance staff, who also provide routine care.

The arboreum dedication drew more than people.

“The arboretum is another contribution you’re making not only to this community, but also to this area and we’re very, very thankful for it,” says Mark Pile, Diakon president/CEO. “I want to thank the committee and everyone at Luther Crest for helping to support this important project.”

“We are so fortunate to be at Luther Crest to begin with, but now we’re even more fortunate because of this wonderful arboretum,” adds Georgia Baldrige, president of the Luther Crest residents association.  

Members of the environment committee responsible for the effort are Jennings, Buehrle, Janet Coringrato, Barbara Godshall, Kayhart, Marlene Marsh, the late Sue Moore, Pat Rinehart, Bob Rinehart, Roth, and Bruce Wagner.


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