PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nan Currington always sits in the front pew of the Mount Hope Presbyterian Church in Penn Hills.
At 104 years old, it isn’t always the quickest walk down the aisle, but congregation members know that if they’re looking for Mrs. Currington, to just look up front, at least that’s the way it was before the pandemic.
Mount Hope reopened for in-person service on July 5, but Mrs. Currington hasn’t returned to her pew just yet. She’s been keeping up by watching the church’s Facebook live streams of the sermons on her computer.
Around the congregation, Mrs. Currington’s nickname is “Queen Nan,” a title she carries like royalty.
“Everybody loves her, she’s just fantastic,” said Debbie Dillman, a church elder and the head of mission ministry at Mount Hope.
On July 23, members from her church and other loved ones made signs wishing her a happy birthday and drove by her home to celebrate her 104 years. Mrs. Currington wore a crown (and a face mask) to mark the occasion.
“Nobody thinks of Nan as old,” said Ms. Dillman.
Mrs. Currington — with seemingly little effort — can recall details from her college days, the years and schools she taught at and even the address of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, her former church, before its relocation in 1948.
“If her body was as well as her mind is, she would be unstoppable,” Ms. Dillman said.
Mrs. Currington uses a walker to get around and occasionally a powered scooter, neither of which prevent her from staying busy and doing the things she loves, even as she faces the second pandemic of her lifetime.
Mrs. Currington has taken to sewing face masks for her friends and family.
Throughout May and June, Mrs. Currington was busy planning Mount Hope’s fall women’s retreat.
She joined the church in 2008 and the next year began attending the women’s retreat. Last year though, a chair position on the planning committee opened up and Nan stepped in.
The only thing left to do is a pick a date and mail the finished plan proposals to the rest of the committee.
“I’ve just been sort of marking time … but I’m ready,” she said. “I’ve talked with some of the members and they’ve been excited, so I’d like to keep them on that level.”
The retreat usually draws between 25 and 40 women. However, this year instead of the retreat lasting the entire weekend, it will just be one day.
Mrs. Currington’s church involvement doesn’t stop with the retreat though, in fact, it runs much deeper. The Presbyterian Church is organized into three levels, the congregation, the senate which is regional and then the general assembly which is national.
She has served on committees at each level, but her favorite part is singing with the choir.
Members of the congregation recently built a ramp so that Mrs. Currington could still join the choir to sing.
“Just the smile on her face when she is up there with the rest of the choir, you can just tell she’s so happy,” said Ms. Dillman.
Mrs. Currington was the sixth of nine children, and they all sang.
The four girls at one point even formed a quartet, called the Moone Sisters Quartet. They would hold programs each Sunday, and once sang for World War II veterans with the USO.
Mrs. Currington grew up surrounded by music, and thought she would make a career out of it.
“I didn’t really want to teach; I wanted to pursue a career in music,” she said. “I envisioned myself a concert singer or a concert pianist, but my mother was much more astute. She said ‘well when you decide to pursue a real vocation, I will support you.’”
After some convincing by two family friends — who happened to be instructors at Cheyney University — Mrs. Currington packed up and went to Cheyney to study home economics. But it wouldn’t be until eight years after her graduation that she found herself in front of a class.
Despite not studying music while at Cheyney, she stayed actively involved in the music world. It was in the university’s choir that she met her husband, Robert Ellsworth Currington. They had been introduced by a mutual friend who had hoped the two “would become very good friends.”
He was the accompanist for the choir, and because she was frequently given solos, they naturally spent a lot of time together.
They had been married for 64 years when Mr. Currington died in 2007.
Mrs. Currington had been born and raised in the Upper Hill, where she still lives today. After college though, returning to Pittsburgh wasn’t her first choice. But, it’s where Mr. Currington got a teaching job.
After her return, Mrs. Currington began work at the Navy testing site in Munhall, where she helped test the metal used to build Navy ships.
In the meantime, upon her arrival back in the city, the minister at her church told her that she “had to do something with these young people,” even though she was only in her mid-20s at the time.
“There were scads of youngsters in the church,” Mrs. Currington said. “Over 50 of them, and I told him ‘the only thing I can do is form a choir.’”
That was the beginning of the choir that she would go on to direct for 30 years.
Desire to teach
In 1950, Mrs. Currington said she finally got the desire to teach. She would spend the next 10 years in a classroom, before moving into the position of girls adviser.
Even after retirement, Mrs. Currington frequently lent a hand to youth who may have been facing some hardships in their lives, according to Ms. Dillman.
“Everyone should have a Nan in their life, to make their life full,” Ms. Dillman said.
Mrs. Currington would move from the girl’s adviser role in 1965 to the vice principal position.
She would work as the vice principal at three different high schools, including her alma mater, Fifth Avenue High School, where she was only the second female administrator ever hired.
Upon her retirement in 1981, she bought an instruction book, went down to Arsenal Lanes in Lawrenceville and taught herself to bowl.
Mrs. Currington said longevity doesn’t run in her family, but one of her sisters lived to be 100 and another sister also lived to be 104.
Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is 100 years of age or older. This group of people, — the centenarians — has been growing over the last 20 years, according to the latest information from the Census Bureau.
For Mrs. Currington though, there is no fountain of youth or magic spell, there is simply greens.
“When I was a kid I didn’t like greens,” she said laughing.
Instead of eating the greens whole, she would take the liquid that they were cooked in and put that in a bowl with her mother’s homemade cornbread.
“I got the best part,” she said. “And that’s what I attribute my longevity to.”
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com