By Larry Carter
“Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy.”
Folk artist Paul Simon knew how to write a lyric or two, and his childhood friend Artie’s tenor voice could accompany him like no other. But Simon & Garfunkel didn’t know my friend, Ann. Hitting her seventh decade wasn’t “terribly” anything, let alone strange. She hit the 8th decade and now the 9th and I’m just not sure what will slow her down.
Ann Andersen Hart turned 96 this past June. She volunteers at the Sparta Mel Trotter Store 15 hours a week, sorting clothing while she checks in with the friends she’s made there. After retiring from Sparta Area Schools Superintendent’s Office in 1986, she made her way to volunteer at the North Kent Service Center where she eventually became the receptionist and was there until 2009. As you probably know, NKSC became North Kent Connect, celebrating its 50th year serving northern Kent County. Ann fit in well with others as one who has a heart for others and a heart to serve.
It’s 1927 and Anna Andersen is the third daughter born to Ejnar and Selma Andersen, 2nd generation Americans whose parents came from Denmark and Germany. Their home is on a small farm in Montcalm County, close to the geographic center of Michigan’s lower peninsula on old M-57. Parts of eighty acres yield potatoes, corn, alfalfa, wheat, and oats with the occasional field of cucumbers and green beans. The Andersens raise and dress broiler chickens, taking them to the original Meijer store in Greenville. Ben & Dolly, their two plow horses, are put to work in the fields, pulling a single-bottom plow. Two chickens and two pigs are raised for food, wood cut for heat, and 7-8 cows give milk for sale at the Sheridan Condensery. Deacon* calves are taken to Vickoryville for sale. Among Ann’s early farm memories was shocking corn. Pictures from a photo album display her toil in the cornfield as well as other labor-intensive chores. “There was work to do and we all pitched in to get it done.”
Entering high school in 1941, Ann was in study hall when the shocking news came announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Father Ejnar, all too familiar with global conflict, had served in the tank corps in the 1st World War. Ann graduated in 1945, her high school experience matching the length of U.S. participation in WWII. All three Andersen girls graduated from Stanton High School: Alice in ’39 and Marian in ’42. Her father was still plowing with Ben & Dolly when Ann left the farm in 1948.
Clare Hart, a fellow high schooler to Ann, was orphaned early in life. She recalls what drew her attention to this young man, revealing a bit about her character. “He was a loner and I was drawn to him.” He, too, graduated from Stanton High, in 1944, joined the Army, and was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in 1947. “I liked him pretty well, then he up and went to war.” Ann, a person of few words, made it clear that she didn’t approve of his sudden departure. When Clare returned, they were married in 1948. He graduated from CMU and they began their journey. Daughter Sharla was born in 1950. Clare first taught school on Mackinaw Island, then in Flint, Mesick, and on to Remus. He also worked at Flint’s Fisher Body between teaching stints. Along the way, he earned a Masters Degree in Education.
Ann’s roster of jobs was is (she’s not done yet!) no less ambitious than her educator husband. Between high school and marriage, she had worked in a doctor’s office as well as a local government office in Stanton, the county seat. My earliest memory of Ann was in the superintendent’s office, definitely a place to avoid if you are a student. You may remember her in that office-she retired from there 37 years ago! Before coming to work at Sparta, Ann did some cost accounting at Gerber Products, bookkeeping at a lumber company, and dispatching for a taxicab company. I looked up a dispatcher’s duties (thank you taxicaller.com)-and it does remind me of her:
…keeping records, responding to calls, being able to multitask and handle stress,
deliver excellent customer experiences, taking care of issues (emergency and
otherwise) and be the first point of contact for complaints and so much more.
Ann’s last job before coming to Sparta was working in the superintendent’s office in Greenville. A conversation between the two superintendents brought her our way. We enjoy discussing friendships she has with my former teachers-her co-workers. One of Ann’s comments about a mutual friend, “Bob Stiles taught me how to employ syncopation (the pattern of strong and weak beats) on the piano. I needed that for playing at church.” Regarding her keyboard talents, Ann and Clare got word from friends of a need for someone to play piano at Lake Community Church on Big Star Lake. The Harts drove the 150 round-trip miles each Sunday for five years.
Clare completed his teaching career in Grand Rapids with disadvantaged adult students. In all, he taught for 33 years. The pride in her voice is evident as Ann describes her husband’s effectiveness as a teacher, “He knew how to handle kids.” In 2003, Clare’s health declined and he became homebound as Ann cared for him until his death in 2010.
Don’t we all wonder at what makes some people tick? Nature vs. nurture…a significant event…for sure a combination of the two. I’ve decided (as though you or anyone should care a whit about what I’ve decided!) that a solid upbringing by hard-working parents, a personality that that considers work satisfying in itself, and a concern for others has made Ann Hart a unique individual indeed. And one whose life is worthy of admiration.
“Long ago…it must be…I have a photograph…
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”**
I don’t exactly agree with Simon & Garfunkel’s soulful reprise that ends the song, but that’s fodder for another time. Those closing words are haunting, pictures in an album that demand reflection, eliciting joy or regret, seldom bringing no reaction. I turned 70 this year along with most of my high school classmates. Thoughts of the past and the future have been brought into sharp relief. My friend Ann, doesn’t dwell on the past-there’s no time for that. It’s one of many things I like about her. She’s teaching me things in this friendship. And she is a good friend.
*Having quit the country life at age 5, I never learned that 'deaconing' a male calf was the act of selling him. Once sold, he becomes a steer.
**Old Friends, Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends Album, 1968