Footprint on your heart

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2013

BEAR POPLAR — Jim McBride says when he was growing up, his Aunt Blanche was known for her baking prowess. She often had cookies or pies stowed away in the warming closet of the cookstove.
One afternoon after school, McBride and Naomi, Blanche’s youngest sister by 25 years, rushed into Blanche’s kitchen looking for dessert. All that was left was a piece of apple pie, and Naomi reached it first.
McBride took off after her, but the chasing around the house ended quickly when Naomi pulled off an ingenious maneuver. She spit on the prize.
“She got the pie,” McBride said.
The pie-spitting story was one of many told Tuesday morning at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where everyone was celebrating the 105th birthday of Blanche Hoffner Lentz.
“You know you’re our treasure,” granddaughter Terri Lee told Blanche.
“No, I didn’t know it,” Blanche answered.
Celebrating with Blanche was sister Margaret Kennerly, who happens to be 100 and a good story-teller, too.
“She’s a pretty good old girl,” Margaret confided.
There can be no Hoffner gathering — this birthday celebration substituted for the regular monthly Hoffner breakfast at CJ’s restaurant in Cleveland — without someone bringing up the outhouse fire. This time, it was Margaret.
In brief, the Hoffner girls heard their mother say one day she wished the farm’s old outhouse would burn down so they could build a new one.
Margaret and Thelma raked up some leaves around the outhouse and set things on fire, though in the end they failed to complete their mission successfully.
When asked whether she was one of the girls who tried to set the outhouse on fire, Blanche said, “I don’t think I did, but I know I was involved.”
A lot of involvement comes with 105 years. Blanche carries some not-so-secret trade secrets to living this long: livermush and Coffee-Mate.
Every breakfast, Lentz has livermush — either at home, CJ’s or Marlowe’s in Salisbury. As for the powdery creamer, she dumps heaping spoonfuls into her coffee, prompting one friend to say, “She likes a little coffee with her milk.”
Blanche has a couple of devoted caregivers — Doris Bradford and Darlene Barnett — looking after her, along with family. Barnett does Blanche’s hair and nails and helps her with a bath.
Every Thursday and Friday morning, the pair also drive to CJ’s in Darlene’s sporty orange Camaro.
You can hardly see little Blanche’s head when she’s sitting in the front bucket seat. But Barnett will never forget the day Blanche gave someone the peace sign from the Camaro and told that person, “Don’t you wish you worked for me?”
Blanche calls Barnett her social director and likes to say, “She doesn’t work. I got her to sit and eat with me.”
When brother Glenn Hoffner asked whether he could inherit Darlene’s services some day, Blanche kiddingly said, “You don’t want her, you want Doris.”
Barnett said Blanche is an amazing person who, get this, shares a lot of stories. “You reckon people get tired of my stories?” she once asked Barnett.
Barnett never does, and she sees the influence Blanche still holds with everyone in her family.
“She puts a footprint on their heart, she really does,” Barnett said.
Blanche Hoffner Lentz was the oldest of 11 siblings, seven of whom are still living. Five of those siblings were able to make Tuesday’s breakfast, including Naomi Kepley, Margaret Kennerly and Bill, Glenn and Leonard Hoffner.
Margaret said her sister could be devilish. In school, she actually put a girl’s pigtails in an inkwell. Margaret also remembered a time when Blanche and a girlfriend were cutting up over drawings they had done of boys in their class.
The teacher asked to see the drawings, then made each girl sit beside the boy they had drawn for the rest of the day.
After high school, Blanche successfully completed nursing school in Statesville, but she soon married George Lentz and became matriarch to their big dairy farm. The couple had two children, Helen and Jerry. Jerry died several years ago.
Susan Mills, one of Blanche’s granddaughters, recalled going to George and Blanche’s house for dinner after church every Sunday.
“I remember more than anything her homemade yeast rolls,” Mills said.
Blanche wrapped them in wax paper and placed them in a white sack with a towel over the rolls to keep them warm.
Lee, Mills’ sister, says Blanche also was known in the family for her dumplings and pies. Her nurse’s training came in handy in managing the diet of late husband George, who was a diabetic.
“She kept him healthy for years,” Lee said.
Blanche often wears around her neck a medallion — the prize she won for an oratory contest in school. She can still recite many parts of that speech about a man and his violin.
There was birthday cake, cards and singing Tuesday morning. Anna McBride, Jim’s granddaughter, also presented Blanche — one of her favorite people — with a homemade plaque sporting the poem Blanche has always liked to recite with young family members.
I love you little.

I love you big.
I love you like a little pig.

Blanche still has a strong appetite. When she and Barnett have breakfast at CJ’s, she orders livermush, eggs, grits, a biscuit full of jelly and coffee with Coffee-Mate.
She then takes home a cup of iced tea for lunch.
Blanche had only one complaint about Tuesday’s breakfast at the church.
“I didn’t get my livermush, unless they put it in the muffin,” she said.
Peace, Blanche. Peace.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or