Getting to 100 is hard work

By on September 21, 2016
At his 100th birthday party, Charles Pawling poses with a chair he caned and a sewing machine he repaired.
At his 100th birthday party, Charles Pawling poses with a chair he caned and a sewing machine he repaired.

At his 100th birthday party, Charles Pawling poses with a chair he caned and a sewing machine he repaired.

When you make it to 100, everyone wants to know how you did it.

Charles Pawling of Brethren Village has some simple advice.

“You have to keep busy. Do something. Don’t just sit around,” he said.

He heeded his own advice by taking up chair caning and fixing sewing machines when he was in his 80s. He’s still doing both.

In fact, at his 100th birthday party on Saturday, he greeted a local woman who told him how her sewing machine was working great. There was also a caned chair at the party, its seat beautifully woven by the cheerful centenarian.

Charles Pawling as a young man.

Charles Pawling as a young man.

The line wrapped all around the room at Brethren Village, where guests lined up to wish Charles Pawling a happy 100th birthday. He smiled and greeted every one of them, dapperly dressed in a light tan summer weight jacket, crisp white shirt and matching tie.

There were lots of friends at the birthday party, but most of them were family. All five of his children were there, including Jeanne Ressler, Ronald Pawling, Ann Hogg, Charlene Leininger, Patricia Martin, and Lori Pawling, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

More than 50 relatives could tie their ancestry back to Charles Pawling.

Pawling was born 100 years ago on Sept. 16, 1916, in Spring Township in Berks County. His parents were George and Ursula Weitzel Pawling. He had a sister, Evelyn, who sadly died from rheumatic fever, then had four brothers: Luther, Warren, Forrest, and George.

“I grew up working on a farm,” said Pawling. “It was my uncle’s farm and my neighbor’s farm. I was just eight. So I grew up working with my hands.”

Before that, he attended a two-story schoolhouse with one room for younger grades and the other for older grades. When his father fell off a ladder and broke both feet, the young boy had to work to help his family.

Some of his fondest memories of his childhood farm work involved the white and the brown horses that pulled the plow. Barney, the brown horse, was his favorite because of his gentleness.

This photo of Charles, and his roadster, was taken in the 1930s.

This photo of Charles, and his roadster, was taken in the 1930s.

Pawling later worked with his Grandpa Weitzel butchering pigs. He was always willing to work to help support his family, even as a child, when his father, a house painter, suffered from lead poisoning and his mother sold her own baked goods. The boy accompanied his mother to Tenth and Windsor Market in Reading to sell her doughnuts, cakes and all sorts of pies, like rhubarb, cherry and shoofly.

“I helped with chickens, with making cottage cheese from the milk, chopping wood, I worked hard, but I liked it,” he said, adding that he also worked with his grandfather, the roadmaster, clearing roads by removing trees and stumps, and shoveling snow in the winter.

At 22, Pawling left his family home and worked at Bollman Hat Factory in Adamstown, earning 25 cents an hour. He then moved on to Berkshire Knitting Mill, where he could earn more, and supplemented it with a part-time job at Ted Smith Appliance Store. After that, he worked for General Baking Company in Reading, delivering Bond bread.

Pawling married his teen sweetheart Anna Blankenbiller after dating steadily for two years.

Dates, he recalled, included going out for hot dogs and soda on Penn Street in Reading. They both worked at the knitting mill, and in 1940 they started their family, with Jeanne Sandra. The rest of the children followed soon after.

Charles Pawling (left) during his days as an Army cook, circa 1945.

Charles Pawling (left) during his days as an Army cook, circa 1945.

Like most young men at the time, Pawling joined the Army in 1945. He was stationed in Louisiana, learning to diffuse land mines. The Army then discovered his true talent for cooking, and put him in charge of the dining halls. He even filled in for the baker, when he didn’t show up for work.

“I had learned from my mother,” he said.

After his time in the Army, Pawling and his wife eventually settled in Ephrata, where he worked at Dutchmaid clothing mill from 1956 to 1981, when he retired.

His wife Anna had suffered hearing loss since childhood, but in the 1950s, she was finally able to improve her hearing through a revolutionary surgery with Dr. Bernard Ronis in Philadelphia.

The couple started their own business in 1967, purchasing the Brickerville Snackette, which was popular for broasted chicken, cheese steaks and ice cream. They ran the business until 1971. They also opened their home to many foster children over the years, adopting two pre-teen sisters, Patricia and Lori, who became a permanent part of the family.

As a member of Grace Evangelical Congregational Church, Pawling was a conference delegate, trustee, steward, Sunday School superintendent, prayer meeting leader, and Bible class teacher.

In 1993, Anna and Charles Pawling moved to an apartment at Brethren Village. He was active in the Green Thumb club and called bingo games. In 1997, the couple visited Northern Ireland with his brother and brother’s wife. Pawling was 80.

“It was a wonderful time, seeing castles and lots of green hills and valleys,” said Pawling.

The Pawlings were married for 68 years when Anna died in 2007, after suffering two falls years earlier.

“It was the saddest time of my life,” said Pawling, who still grieves his sweetheart’s passing. “I tried to keep busy.”

Even at 100, Pawling carries on the early work ethic of his childhood. He volunteers in the woodshop at Brethren Village, five mornings a week and several afternoons, caning chairs. On Monday afternoons, he works at the grocery store.

“My doctor says at this rate I should make it to 150,” said Pawling. “But I still can’t believe I’m 100.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at

One Comment

  1. Tim Benton

    September 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    He is still busy.
    He is one of the Train room starters.
    And we are friends.
    Tim Benton

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