Resident Spotlight: Friendliness and hard work help Mary Yanich reach her 100th birthday


Friendliness and hard work help Mary Yanich reach her 100th birthday!

As she nears her 100th birthday, Mary Yanich credits hard work for her longevity. She has owned a grocery store, sold shoes, been active in her church, and even helped her family’s bootlegging business as a girl during prohibition.

What’s the secret to living 100 years? Homeland Center resident Mary Yanich credits her devotion to hard work – even when that meant tending her father’s moonshine still during Prohibition.

“I loved to work,” says Mary. “I asked my mother once why she always asked me to do things when there were other brothers and sisters around, and she said, ‘I know, but when I call for Mary, Mary jumps.’”

Yanich’s birthday on Oct. 27, 2016, represents 100 full years — upholding the traditions of her parents’ native Serbia, raising a family, supporting her church, and working inside and outside the home.

Mary, who had six siblings, was born in Farrell, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Midland, Ohio. Her father owned a gas station and a farm, where apples, pears, and grapes grew in the orchards.

“I have a picture of me up in a tree eating an apple,” she says. “It was a beautiful, beautiful farm.”

Mary doesn’t hide her family’s bootlegging past and the whiskey produced to bring in income. At 8 years old, according to her son, Ted Yanich, she worked nighttime, two-hour shifts tending the fire under the still. She also rode with the milk man on his morning rounds, carrying whiskey hidden in hot-water bottles that she distributed to customers along the route.

“What revenuer would stop an 8-year-old?” says Ted Yanich.

Mary Yanich’s life was full of music. She could play piano by ear. Her mother and uncle sang traditional Serbian songs in the home. She met her husband, Ben, when his church choir came from his hometown of Steelton to sing at her church.

Mary and Ben married in 1943. He shipped off to the South Pacific, where he was wounded while serving as a tank commander. After recovering in Hawaii, he came home to Steelton, where Mary was living with his parents.

With Mary’s industrious, friendly nature, she dove into the life of the tight-knit mill town and St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, next door to their home. The avid sports fan attended every Steelton-Highspire High School football game for 53 years, bundling up for even the coldest games. She cooked for church events and was recently honored as a founder of its Mothers Club, established in 1956. She still attends services.

“Members of the church still say she was one of their favorite people there,” says Ted.

In 1954, Mary convinced her husband to buy a grocery store. They worked different shifts, even as he kept working at the steel mill. The money earned helped put their two sons, Ted and Donilo, through college.

Even after they sold the store in 1964, Mary kept working. At Pomeroy’s Department Store, she sold shoes, just as she’d done at another department store in Pittsburgh years before.

“The people I worked with were nice,” she recalls. “They were nice company, and we had fun together.”

Ted Yanich says his mother taught him and his brother compassion, especially for those weaker than others. She also urged them to uphold Serbian traditions of building bonds among families.

At Homeland, Mary enjoys music programs. Ted, who has seen many retirement communities in the course of his work, ranks Homeland as one the best because “everybody in this building is a caregiver,” whether they’re certified nurse assistants or maintenance workers. Mary agrees.

“The people are so friendly,” she says. “That’s so important. It’s not hard to be nice.”