Viola McConnell, Gardner resident who turned 99 in March, is one of Gardner’s most senior, senior citizens. Staff photo by Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Viola McConnell, Gardner resident who turned 99 in March, is one of area’s most senior, senior citizens. She has spent the majority of her life as a citizen in the city of Gardner.
Today McConnell lives in a local apartment community. She uses a walker to assist in getting around, but she is mobile and active. She doesn’t drive anymore, so she is dependent on friends to get out.
McConnell regularly attends services and other activities at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Her younger friend, Ann Welch, 91, stopped by during the conversation with McConnell to pick up an item that needed to go to the church. Welch has served as sacristan at Divine Mercy Parish since 1990 and is the subject of a recent article published in The Leaven.
Welch is also McConnell’s driver when she goes places.
The two play cards every week, on Thursdays or Sundays. Every so often, they go out to eat at a restaurant. McConnell says she’s not picky and likes most places, but mentions Perkins as a favorite.
On Sundays, she cuts coupons out of the newspapers and gives them to a charity. She says she sometimes stays up until midnight because she has to get it done to turn them in Monday morning.
She’s done that for 50 years.
She also separates and saves aluminum, glass and plastic materials because she knows people who collect those items.
“I’m in the kitchen anyway. It gives me something to do,” she says with a laugh.
In her living room, a newer flat screen TV sits on top of a 1970’s era wooden console TV that probably weighs 400 pounds – a visual reminder of the technology changes that have taken place in her lifetime. She doesn’t want to throw the old away because it still works, and it makes a good sturdy table.
She says she doesn’t watch much TV during the day except for the news at noon. There’s a lot of stuff on TV she doesn’t like much, but she does have some favorite shows, such as NCI, Bull and Bluebloods.
McConnell grew up in Illinois, the middle sister of three. Her older sister passed away at the age of 84, and her younger sister just passed about a year ago, on Easter Sunday, at the age of 96.
She went to high school in Greenfield, Ill. Shortly after high school she took a trip to Gardner with one of her friends who had relatives here.
While here, a “cute” young man working at the hardware store caught her eye. That young man, Vincent Bigelow, would later become her husband.
“I was out of high school, not yet 20. We went together for several years before we got married,” she says.
They spent the first few years of marriage in Overland Park before Vincent eventually got a job in Gardner, delivering fuel to farmers. Later, they would have their own business here and built a house on North Pine.
She remembers a feed store in downtown Gardner on Elm Street, where people would buy live chickens for dinner.
She calls the building on the corner of Main and Center “the big old bank” and says regardless of all the name changes, it’s always been “the big old bank.”
Vincent and Viola had three children – Rachel, born in 1947, Margaret in 1950 and James in 1957, and now McConnell has five grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Vincent died in 1969, and Viola was a widow for 22 years.
In her 70’s, she worked at Gill Studios and eventually married James McConnell, who also worked there. The marriage lasted ten years until James McConnell died.
Viola McConnell said she has been blessed with relatively good health her whole life. She’s outlived some of her doctors.
She has glaucoma and goes the doctor every four months, but her vision is still good, and she said she only needs reading glasses. She’s also been treated for thyroid issues, but other than that, she says she has no major health problems.
McConnell said she thinks it’s a waste of time interviewing her because she’s not an outgoing person and her life isn’t that interesting – but that’s modesty – anyone who makes it to her age is very interesting and has many valuable stories to tell.
Viola McConnell will celebrate her 100th birthday next March.