CHARLESTON — Relatives from at least five states flew into town to help Margaret Epper celebrate her 100th birthday.
“The party was great,” she said. “I had one good time!”
Katherine Epper, her daughter-in-law, organized the festivities at the Villas of West Ashley on Oct. 17, and said more than 50 people came.
Mrs. Epper said there were folks at her birthday that she hadn’t seen in 10 years, plus a few that she’d never met, such as her nephew’s new wife.
Resting in a chair in her room at The Palmettos Assisted Living facility, she told The Miscellany that she is sad to see everyone leave after such a whirlwind week. The last two travelers, Eileen and Gai Cadwell, her granddaughter and son-in-law, were visiting her one last time before returning to California.
As her grandmother chatted, Mrs. Cadwell worked on her knitting. She said her grandmother taught her to crochet and her mother, who was the oldest of four children, taught her to knit.
Mrs. Epper said she has always enjoyed handwork — knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, tatting — and would teach anyone who wanted to learn.
“I always say she’s one crafty lady,” her granddaughter remarked.
It was her handwork that helped her become such a large part of St. Joseph Church when she moved here with her daughter in 1996.
Before that, she had lived most of her life in New Jersey. Mrs. Epper said she was born in France on the French/Belgium border, but moved to America when she was only three.
She said she remembers coming over on the boat with her mother and landing in Pennsylvania, where they lived for a few years before settling in Paterson, N.J.
Mrs. Epper grew up attending Catholic churches in the North and said her family spent a lot of time at Mass and volunteering for the parish. She met her husband Charles on a blind date, saw the Fleet arrive in 1928, and raised a family of four children.
She never thought about leaving New Jersey until her husband died in 1991. At that point she was taking care of her daughter, Peggy, who had Downs Syndrome, on her own. Mrs. Epper said as more of her friends and neighbors passed away she felt the need to move closer to family.
It was either Florida, where her sister lived, or South Carolina, where her son, Robert, lived.
“I didn’t like Florida because of the bugs and gators,” she said. “So I picked Charleston.”
The centenarian said it is interesting that she ended up at St. Joseph because it was like coming full circle. She also started her life at a St. Joseph Catholic Church, this one in Belgium, where she was baptized.
Mrs. Epper and Peggy became involved with the Piecemakers at church after she bought a raffle ticket for one of their quilts and won it.
“My daughter used to go with me every Monday. She’d talk to the ladies and visit with Father. He’d tell her to make sure the ladies did their work and didn’t talk too much,” Mrs. Epper recalled with a smile.
The mother-daughter team also volunteered twice a week at the concession stand during basketball season, and baked goodies for the weekly fish fry and other events. Peggy passed away in 2002, but Mrs. Epper continued to volunteer.
She said the last quilt she was involved with was to raise money for the Options Program for students with special needs at Bishop England High School.
“It’s a wonderful idea. If those kids are given even this much,” she said, holding her fingers just a bit apart, “they’re thankful for it. And those kids can be taught. Believe me, I know.”
Mrs. Epper said she can no longer do her handwork because of arthritis, and a serious bout of pneumonia last year left her weakened, so she cannot go out much. Usually, going to church for Mass is too taxing, but she receives the Eucharist each week from one of the church’s extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
The lifelong volunteer said she misses the Piecemakers, and being able to make things with her hands, but she tries to be matter-of-fact about aging.
“What are you going to do?” she asks. “When you can’t do it no more, you can’t.” Then she laughed and said she’s ready to start over at birthday No. 1.
Katherine said the 100-year-old has always been feisty and independent. She drove her own car until a shoulder injury forced her to stop just four years ago.
“At her age, she’s still sharp as a tack. She takes care of her own banking and bills and everything,” Katherine said. “This birthday weekend seemed to rejuvenate her.”
Mrs. Epper has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren who help keep her young, plus another great-grandchild due for arrival in March.