By Dicy McCullough
For the Salisbury Post
Birthday cake, party hats and presents, along with memories, stories and laughter flowed freely at Blanche Hoffner Lentz’s birthday-breakfast celebration Tuesday at CJ’s restaurant in Cleveland.
Born July 23, 1908, Blanche has seen more in her lifetime than you can imagine. To put things in perspective, Bette Davis was born that year. Henry Ford made his first Model T, and Theodore Roosevelt was president.
I had the opportunity to visit with Blanche at her home a couple of weeks ago and realized she’s one sharp lady for someone about to turn 104 years old. Born in a log cabin on Shinn Road, in western Rowan County, Blanche was the oldest of 11 children, with seven still living.
Granddaughter Terri Lee thinks her grandmother was named Julia Loretta Blanche Hoffner — carrying the names of her grandmothers and an aunt — because Blanche’s mom, Victoria Cline Hoffner, thought she couldn’t have more children. Knowing there were 10 after her, Blanche laughed at that idea.
Terri Lee lives behind her grandmother, so it’s easy to stop in for a visit.
Two room school
As a child, Blanche went to school at Woodgrove, a two-room schoolhouse that stood at the end of Bear Poplar Road. She described the school as having a little room and a big room. I asked if the rooms were called that because of their size or because of the size of the children. Blanche said it was because the “little kids” went in the little room and the “big kids” in the big room.
Recess was a favorite subject, with Blanche recalling that sometimes the “kids” played in the road because there wasn’t much room in the schoolyard. Playing in the “street” at recess was relatively safe because traffic on Bear Poplar Road was mostly horse and wagon. Blanche also liked the boxed suppers the moms prepared as fund raisers. She said the pretty, little boxes were decorated with crepe paper and filled with food such as ham biscuits and cakes for people to buy.
Chickens in the school
After Blanche graduated from Woodgrove, she went to Mount Ulla High School. Terri suggested Blanche tell the funny story that happened at school involving some mischievous boys and chickens. Blanche said, “Oh yes, those ‘bad’ boys stole chickens from a local farmer and brought them to school. The chickens got loose and feathers went everywhere. It took a while to catch them, but when they did, the teachers made them take the chickens back.”
The day Mount Ulla High School burned, Blanche was in class and remembers it clearly. “Everyone got out OK, but it was scary,” she said. Until the students could go back to Mount Ulla, class was held at Carl Sherrill’s store across from the Old Mill on Highway 801. For convenience, Blanche went to Troutman High School for a while, moving in with her Aunt Mary Waller, who lived near the school.
Blanche flourished as a student at Troutman, even winning the coveted “Recitation Award.” Her recitation medal hangs on a gold chain she sometimes wears around her neck, engraved with the words, “Recitation Award, 1926.” Blanche had to recite a four-page story chosen by her teacher to win the award.
Even though years have passed, with her voice steady and strong, she began reciting, “ ‘ It has come at last, old comrade, it has at last — the time when you and I must say good-bye. God knows I wish I could sell myself instead of you.” Blanche, skipping to the last lines, finished with, “ ‘My sight is failing, I can see only you, only you. Snap! The last string breaks.’ ”
Looking at Terri, Blanche said, “You do know, the old comrade was the violin?” Terri said, “Yes, Grandma, I know.”
The story, written by Margaret M. Merrill is titled, “The Soul of the Violin.”
Trying to burn downouthouse
For a minute, silence filled the room, broken only by Terri saying, “Grandmother, tell some funny stories that happened while growing up at home.”
With a little prompting, details of how the family’s outhouse almost burned down spilled out.
Blanche’s dad, Martin Luther Hoffner, had good intentions of building a new outhouse, but because he was busy, he never got around to it. Two of the girls, Margaret and Thelma, overheard their mother say she wished it would burn down, so they decided to help. After raking leaves around the outhouse, they then set the leaves on fire and ran inside yelling, “The outhouse is on fire! The outhouse is on fire!” Their mom calmly said, “Well, put it out.” The sisters, sad their plan hadn’t worked, put the fire out and left the outhouse standing.
Since Blanche was the oldest child, she not only helped with her younger siblings, but she also helped around the house. At 16, she sometimes drove her mom into town for errands. Returning from a trip one day, Blanche opened the door to the enclosed back porch and noticed several tall hickory “switches” standing in the corner. She thought, “Uh-oh, someone’s in trouble.” She was right. Two of her sisters had caught their mom’s favorite dress on fire when looking for something in her closet. Since the closet was dark, they lit a match to see. Later, their dad helped them see with a different light.
What a fun family. The Hoffners meet every month on the third Tuesday to celebrate birthdays. That’s why they celebrated Blanche’s 104th a week earlier than her actual birthday.
I talked with many of Blanche’s family members at the party, but I think her niece, Joretta Klepfer, summed things up best when she said, “Growing up a Hoffner meant hard work on the farm, but growing up a Hoffner also meant having lots of fun. At reunions, parties or funerals, there are always jokes, storytelling and laughter because the Hoffners believe in celebrating life.”
Perhaps this philosophy is the secret to Blanche’s longevity. Staying true to the values learned as a child, she has lived her life with dignity and grace, working hard, but still finding time for fun, with a sense of humor unique only to her. This lifestyle, in turn, has blessed her with “riches” money cannot buy. Now that’s something to celebrate.
Happy 104th birthday, Blanche.
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Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Contact her at 704-278-4377.