Celebrating 100 years

At 100 years old, Diz Fader cues up to demonstrate the finesse she has not lost. Grandson Bill said, "If you put a $5 wager on a match, watch out! She'll run the table!" Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

The brass bucket beside Mary Helene Fader's comfy chair in her sunroom holds copies of "Archaeology" magazine, Wellesley College publications, issues of "The New York Times." Many friends and relatives may not recognize the Mary Helene reference, and so she will be referred to throughout this story as Diz, the nickname bestowed upon her by her sister many years ago, the name that has stayed with her throughout her life. And that also is the name that was spelled out on the cake that held the 100 candles that she managed to extinguish with just a little help from her son, John, at a party held recently to commemorate her reaching centenarian status on Jan. 11.

Diz grew up in Athens, NY, a Hudson River Valley town located near Albany, living in a home that offered privileges provided by her father's successful career as an electrical engineer. An aerial photograph of the home shows an estate of considerable size surrounded by lawns, gardens and tennis courts. She attended a one-room schoolhouse, graduating first in her class of 12 students, and then enrolled at Wellesley College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts, graduating in 1935.

"My college roommate, Pinkney Gott, came from Sewickley," Diz recalls, "and when I came down to visit her in Glen Osborne, I liked it and moved here. And then she called me one time and said to me, 'I met the man that you should marry.'"

Pinkney apparently had a skill at matchmaking. Diz married Bill Fader -- Pinkney's pick -- in 1939, first settling in Glen Osborne and then moving to Kilbuck in 1958, where she raised her five children. Then came 12 grandchildren and, at last count, 25 great-grandchildren to round out the extended family.

John remembers his mother as being "…strict with her kids and devoted to my dad. She supported me in everything I attempted to do. She was a great cook. Mom has a family recipe for 'sand tarts' that we all love. She has passed the recipe on to all of us. We have noted that each recipe is different and no one believes that the recipes produce the same cookie."

Happy to follow patterns in life, Diz attends Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon every Sunday, transported by various members of the congregation.

"I grew up an Episcopalian, but now I'm Presbyterian," Diz points out.

A very active Presbyterian, at that. Close friend and neighbor Jean Henderson, her former pastor, said, "I've known her for 30 years. At church when I'm singing in the choir, she waves at me from her seat. She faithfully knits with us at the Knit 'n Sip meetings ... every Friday and she loves to be in on all of the chatter!"

And while she loves her fellow church members, she claims that she was embarrassed when they joined in to sing "Happy Birthday" to her a few weeks ago. "Everyone was looking at me," she says, not succeeding in her attempt to sound irritated with the attention.

"They were so happy to have you to celebrate," close friend Pam Redman explains. "We are all so blessed to have you in our lives."

Diz thinks about that explanation for a few seconds and then breaks to a smile, maybe looking back with pleasure at a life lived well, maybe looking ahead to more good times to come. Or maybe it's her satisfaction with the present.

She enjoys independent living with the company of her cherished pet, Daisy Cat, as well as daily visits from friends. Diz reads "The New York Times" every morning and works the daily crossword over coffee and rolls, often with help from Pam.

And she continues to maintain her lifelong interest in archaeology. The reading materials referred to in that brass bucket mentioned earlier tell of a lifelong interest in history, the arts, antiquities, subjects that she studied at Wellesley. She took part in a dig in Greece in the 1970s, traveled to Iceland, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, Kenya and Egypt, among other countries, and after her husband passed away in the 1980s, studied ancient history for a semester at Oxford.

Tennis has always been a huge part of her life, winning the Green County, NY women's singles championship in 1932. The Sept. 9, 1932 issue of "The Recorder" reported that "The tournament aroused considerable interest and brought to light some exceedingly clever players."

During the months when John plays matches with friends at the Ben Avon Heights courts every Wednesday, Diz often is on hand to offer some coaching, solicited or not. But John accepts her advice, probably because he is so accustomed to it. "She taught me to play at age 10. Even now she tells me, 'Bend your knees!'"

Pam notes that Diz played into her 80s and she continues to play the game, albeit vicariously, via the tennis channel, which is tuned in "24-7" at her home near the courts.

And there are so many other interests.

Baseball. She loves following the Pirates and is already looking forward to attending a game with her entire family as a highlight of a reunion planned for July. But she doesn't just cheer the hits and runs, she also keeps her own inning-by-inning stats.

Bridge. "She's always a champion on the tennis court as well as the bridge table," neighbor Janet Jackson said.

And the pleasure of shooting a friendly game of billiards, a game she learned as a girl back in Athens.

Billiards at 100?

"Why not? Once you learn it, you don't lose it!" Diz says with confidence.

Diz's lifestyle answers the question asked of every centenarian: "What's the secret?"

To Diz, that question begs such an obvious answer that she does not hesitate a second to reply.

"Keep active, mentally and physically."

After a brief pause, she turns serious for possibly the first time in her interview, adding, "Anything you can do to help people is worth pursuing."

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