‘Kate’ Cordell turns 100 on Saturday

Shawn Hardy
This photo of Catherine ‘Kate’ Cordell was taken at Christmastime. The larger photo on the bookcase is of her son, Mark, who had Down syndrome and died in 2011. The smaller black and white photo next to her arm is her husband, ‘Jim’ Cordell, in his World War II uniform.

Saturday, March 11, is Catherine “Kate” Cordell’s birthday, and she has a wish for everyone who reads this, “I hope you live to be 100 because it is a great feeling.”

Cordell spent her early years in Marion, lived in Greencastle for 47 years and now lives outside of Chambersburg, not far from her daughter, Susan Elliott. She and her husband, the late Harold Leslie “Jim” Cordell, also are the parents of Jessie Horst and Cathy Scofield, both of Mont Alto, and Mark Cordell, who died on June 30, 2011.

One reason Cordell thinks she has lived so long is, in the words of her mother, “Work never killed anyone.”

And Cordell has been working most of her life, caring for the children of a rich family in Marion from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. when she was 15, caring for mother and siblings after her father died when she was in her early 20s and caring for her own family, especially her youngest, Mark, who was born with Down syndrome.

“She was always needed,” said Elliott. “Dad had a failing heart and Mark needed her.”

“I never remember her doing anything for herself,” said Horst.

Cordell recalled that when her son was born with Down syndrome she was told her would not live very long.

He died a month before he turned 55 and one doctor said he was “the oldest Down syndrome child he’d ever seen and the best taken care of.”

Cordell knew she wanted to be a seamstress from the time she was 11 years old, when a kind woman saw her ill-fitting, hand-me-down coat and made her a cape. She went to work sewing at Stanley Co. in Chambersburg for $14.40 a week when she was 17, “sewed for everyone in Greencastle” as well as her own family and still makes her own clothes. She still has — and uses — the treadle sewing machine she bought for $40 in 1935.

Born March 11, 1917, in Marion, she was one of seven children — two boys and five girls — of Pearl and Edward Stumbaugh. Her home is full of photos of friends and family — which includes grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, stepgrandchildren, step-great-grandchildren and step-great-great-grandchildren. In a place of honor is a scene from Italy, where there is a cross for her brother, Ralph, who went missing in action at the Battle of Cassino during World War II.

“He was only 19,” she commented.

Her only living sibling is Gladys Leininger, 87, a resident of ManorCare.

And while her father died young, her mother lived to 100, one aunt lived to 101 and another to 102.

Cordell joined what is now Marion First United Methodist Church when she was 15 and taught Sunday school at one time.

Overall she is in good health in terms of her heart, lungs and blood pressure, but she does have macular degeneration and needs a walker so she no longer goes to church. However, church comes to her in the form of DVDs of services and visits from the pastor and church members.

“I never met anyone I didn’t like and I always try to do something nice for someone,” Cordell said.

People she has done something nice for can attend an open house from noon to 4 p.m. on her birthday. Cards may be sent in care os Susan Elliott, 662 Kittatinny Drive, Chambersburg, PA 17202.

However, Cordell said clearly and loudly, “I do not need a thing.”