Resident Spotlight: Mildred Anthony’s dad made records while her mom made moonshine

Mildred Anthony

Mildred Anthony, settling in to enjoy living at Homeland Center.

When Mildred Anthony was a child, Sunday dinner was an early affair. Afterward, her father would get into his 1935 Hudson and drive the members of his band, the Mahanoy City Eagles Band, to New York City.

After midnight, Mildred’s family would gather around the radio to hear her father’s band play a broadcast.

“It was thrilling to listen to,” recalls Mildred from her cheery Homeland personal care suite. “I was thrilled.”

Mildred’s father, John Wichalonis, was a trumpeter and first-generation Lithuanian-American who made the first recordings of Lithuanian music in the U.S., for Columbia Records. His father, Mildred’s grandfather, could play any instrument, and he taught his son traditional Lithuanian tunes. Her father, in turn, transcribed the tunes into sheet music.

The recording and broadcasting gigs started in the 1930s from their home in the Pennsylvania anthracite region town of Mahanoy City.

“He was playing around the area at different dances, and the record company contacted him,” Mildred says. “They gave us a record and a record player. If you didn’t wind it up, the records would slow down.”

While Mildred’s father was busy as a coal mine fire boss, plus his music sideline, her mother, Julia, had her own entrepreneurial streak – operating a liquor still in the basement.

During Prohibition, the brewery nearby would alert her to pending raids by government agents, and she would burn incense to cover the fermentation smell. Julia’s boilo – an anthracite-region tradition made with whiskey, berries, and caraway seed – sold in five-gallon quantities.

“It’s like a demitasse,” Mildred says. “You’re supposed to sip it, but at the weddings, they drank it down.”

As a little girl, Mildred would watch tap-dance classes through the window of a dance school and when she convinced her mother to let her take lessons, she already knew the first steps. Soon, she was tap dancing like Shirley Temple and performing at local minstrel shows. Even years later, she could break out a few steps for the Frackville Women’s Club.

For 12 years, Mildred managed a bank branch in Frackville, PA. She loved her work, assuring attentive service for every customer. One couple approached the bank next door for a mortgage but ended up with her bank after meeting her.

“I loved working with people and helping them,” she says. “You have to be friendly with people and have their confidence.”

On the wall of Mildred’s room hangs a 1948 photo of her husband Tom beside his Indian motorcycle. The couple met at a dance where Mildred’s father was playing. They married a year later.

“My dad used to take me to the dances, and then I met Tom, and I didn’t go home with my dad anymore,” she says. “I went with him. I loved him. He was so nice and humble.”

Tom’s Lebanese roots were so deep that he had more family in Beirut and its countryside than in the U.S. When they traveled there, Mildred witnessed the beauty of Lebanon, including snow-capped mountains and the fabled tall cedars.

Mildred and Tom were married for 68 years, until his passing in June 2018. They lived in Frackville, where he was a meat cutter for Acme markets. They raised a son and a daughter she calls “the best gift in my life.” The family enjoyed outdoor adventures and water sports from their cabin at a lake near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

At Homeland, Mildred’s suite, filled with natural light from two large windows, is cleverly laid out. A sofa bed accommodates overnight guests. A long bench serves as a coffee table, and a drop-leaf table nestling at the foot of the bed provides a handy spot for sitting with visitors.

Mildred came to Homeland in 2017 for skilled care and made so much progress that she moved into personal care.

“I got good care,” she says. “I came a long way from the time I came here.”

She enjoys Homeland’s musical programs, especially the visit earlier this year by ragtime pianist Domingo Mancuello.

Today, Mildred looks back on a full life.

“I’m blessed,” she says. “I’ve had a happy life. There are always bumps in the road, but I thank God for what I have today.”