At a family gathering almost a year ago, Hilda Mae Mann was honored as she celebrated her 100th birthday! A life-long area resident, Hilda spent the first ten years of her childhood in Midland Park, and since 1926 resided in Wyckoff. In 1938 she married her high school sweetheart, life-long Wyckoff resident Edward W. Mann. For fifty years they devoted themselves to raising their four children, working hard, and serving their church and community. Their two daughters and their spouses – Donna and Robert Gibson and Merle and Roger Tanis, as well as two sons and their spouses - Edward and Maryellen Mann and Alan and Ylva Mann, have given her ten grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren, all of whom brought her greatest joy! The daughter of Albert and Ella Mae Fox, Hilda always had an avid interest in genealogy. Her father was a direct descendant of the Fox family that first settled the Ramapo River valley in Mahwah in 1702. They were farmers, with later generations supplying produce to the Paterson market, and some eventually settling in Paterson. In 1911, he met her mother, Ella Mae Makepeace, at the Second Reformed Church there. Her mother’s Makepeace ancestors came to the Boston area in 1636, with later generations settling in New England as well as the Paterson, NJ area. Hilda was the last remaining member of the Fox family in her generation. Alberta Dodson, the daughter of her brother Albert who passed in 1992, was present at Hilda’s 100th celebration. Hilda’s life has spanned all the way from Model T to SUV! As a young child in Midland Park, she remembered Saturday night baths in the big tub in the kitchen, an outhouse at the end of their garden path, many dirt roads, and roller skating from home to school. She watched her Midland Park elementary school burn down one cold winter night, losing her favorite book. In Wyckoff, during this same time period, the original wooden school that burned was replaced by the “modern” brick Washington School that she would attend a few years later. A life-long learner, Hilda always enjoyed crossword puzzles and daily readings of the newspaper. She was an avid reader, especially of books with a historical setting. Over her lifetime, she experienced a whole century of history in the making. As a very young child, she lived during the First World War and ratification of the 19th Amendment giving her mother and all women the right to vote. A child in the Roaring 20’s, she remembered the first time she saw an airplane in flight. Her high school and college years were lived out during the Great Depression. As she graduated from Paterson Normal School in 1936 (which later became William Paterson University) and taught 4th grade in Morris Plains, our nation’s economic recovery still had a ways to go, and Social Security had just begun. The winds of war were swirling in Europe as Hilda and Edward were married in 1938, while their first child Donna was born months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and their second child Merle just months after World War II ended. When their two sons, Edward and Alan, were born a few years later, wonder drug antibiotics such as penicillin were newly available, and by the late fifties, a vaccine had defeated the scourge of polio. Amidst Cold War tensions, relative prosperity was the backdrop for the years devoted to the all important job of raising their family of four. As their children studied at local schools, attended college, and got married, the nation and the world were rapidly changing, with civil rights, anti-war activism, Earth Day, and women’s rights in the headlines. A man walked on the moon the summer their first grandchild was born. As empty nesters, Hilda and Edward enjoyed many excursions throughout the US and Canada, as well as travel trips to England, Scotland, and Sweden, flying on jets that were inconceivable back in their childhood days. Active members of the North Jersey Antique Bottle Collectors’ Association, Hilda created its monthly newsletter on a standard typewriter just as the first personal computers came into use. Their shared hobby of collecting vintage glass bottles and stoneware led Hilda to create educational displays using the historical information they had researched. Although Edward passed away in 1988, Hilda, with her steadfast pioneer spirit, carried on with their home and family, her interests and activities as the Internet, AIDS, Iraq War, 911, and climate change forever changed the world around her.
Hilda’s life was always defined by her commitment to family and church, with all endeavors enriched by her lifelong interests of teaching, learning, music, and service. Early in her married life, she was an active member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary while her husband served as a volunteer fireman with the Wyckoff Fire Department. Family camping vacations, Sunday afternoon outings, and visits to historical sites shaped their children’s lives in countless ways. A homemaker par excellence, Hilda dedicated herself to raising her children, using her teaching skills and creativity at home as well as in her volunteer roles as church school teacher, tutor for Vietnamese refugee children, tutor for children at Northwest Forces in Paterson, and Girl Scout leader. Inspired by her own experiences as a member of the first Girl Scout troop organized in Wyckoff in the late 1920’s, she emphasized camping and outdoor skills with her very fortunate scouts in Troop 43 during the early 1960’s. Throughout all her endeavors she passed along the values of hard work, integrity, doing one’s personal best, allegiance to country, and commitment to serving others. Even throughout her senior years, Hilda enjoyed the opportunity to teach and inspire as she shared her time and talents with her ten grandchildren!
Throughout her 100 years, her faithfulness as a church member was intertwined with her family life. A life-long member of the Reformed Church of America, Hilda was active in Trinity Reformed Church in Midland Park as a child and young adult, moving her membership to the Wyckoff Reformed Church in the 1950’s as her family was growing. She inherited her love for hymns from her mother, and has passed this on to her family and church members. Family gatherings were made special when everyone gathered around the piano to sing as Hilda played favorite hymns. For many years she served as a “chimer,” playing pre-service hymns on the organ at her Wyckoff church. As recently as five years ago, she was still playing hymns on the piano for the church’s Morning Prayer Group, for which she was a founding member. Hilda has always loved to sing, and was proud to say that she sang in church choirs for 80 years! In addition to singing alto in the Chancel Choir, she also served the Wyckoff Reformed Church as a Deacon, Sunday School teacher, and active member of the Reformed Church Women. A dedicated member and leader of the Ladies Aid Society, she worked tirelessly on major quilting projects, biannual rummage sales, and creative meetings for the benefit of the church, its members, and its missions. What was the secret for her longevity? In Hilda’s own words, it was “good, healthy living, lots of hard work, a strong faith, and living independently for as long as possible. A good measure of “pioneer spirit” and a “can-do attitude” served her well for a century. Most important of all, Hilda has always been blessed with the love of family, always dedicating herself to each person on her family tree.