Pearl

Grace Phillips, Staff Writer

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Across the street from where I live, there is a small, yellow brick house. It’s been there since I can remember, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. It is occupied by my neighbor and friend, Pearl Parnell. She is 101 years old and has the best lawn in the neighborhood. She’s been to all fifty states, lives on her own, and up until four or five years ago was still driving. Born in 1917, Pearl has lived through World War II, Pearl Harbor, the rise of the automobile, and the beginning of modern technology. I recently interviewed her and asked her about all that she’s seen over the course of her life. This is her story.

 

Could you start just by telling me a little bit about yourself and your life growing up in the 1900s?

Well, I was born November the 3rd, 1917 in Jefferson Township at the crossroads which is now Hannahstown road and Fisher road, to George E. and Adella L. Newbert. I had two brothers who were older than me, and then I had a sister who was five years younger than me. My father was a carpenter. When I was very young we had a horse, so we traveled by horse and buggy. We went to church and Dad used it to go to work. When I was, I think five or six years old, Dad bought a Model T Ford and the horse was getting old so they sold it. My mother never learned to drive. We grocery shopped in Saxonburg and maybe a couple times a year we would go to Butler to get clothes and shoes. My brothers went to Jefferson Center to the public school, and when I was seven ( I would’ve been seven years old in November) I started school at the Hannahstown Saint Lukes School. I finished all 8 grades. It was one room, one teacher, all 8 grades. There were anywhere from thirty to forty students all together. My last year in Saint Lukes School, I joined Saint Lukes Church. I was confirmed and became a member.

I went to Butler High School and graduated in June of 1936. I graduated on a Friday and the next Friday I was in the hospital with appendicitis. I didn’t do much that summer. I worked in Pittsburgh a couple years as a nanny. One family had 2 little girls and I left there and went to another family and they had one little girl. In Pittsburgh is where I met my husband; my first husband. We were married September 20th, 1941. He had been in the army reserves and was a lieutenant, but he had gotten his back hurt and he had to resign his commision. November 7th, 1941 was Pearl Harbour and he was on the telephone trying to get back in the service. He said he could do clerical work but they didn’t take him back. He had back problems and they got worse and he developed a heart condition and others from that. We had a son who was born September 15th, 1942. He was four years old when my husband died in August of 1946. We spent our time between my husbands parents house in Pittsburgh and my parents house in Jefferson Township.

 

Did your first husband serve in either of the world wars?

He was in the army reserves, yes.

 

What was his name?

Kenneth L. Biehl

 

What was your son’s name?

Kenneth Robert Biehl. We called him Robert or Bob. He is now deceased. He died in 2013.

 

Did you get married a second time?

Yes. I married Albert W. Fox, funeral director in Saxonburg. I married him February 2nd, 1957. He had two sons, I had one son. We lived together at the funeral home. In 1958 Albert and I drew the floor plans for the present funeral home. We took our floor plans to the architect and he drew the present building to our floor plans. We broke ground in May of 1958 and in March of ‘59 we had an open house. The old funeral home was a house at the corner of Main Street and Butler Road. It was torn down after we moved into the new funeral home. Albert and I did some traveling. We would take three weeks vacation a year and traveled the United States. He died in May 1983. He and I had bought my present  home on High Street, but he never got to live in it. After he died and in June I moved into my present home.

In 1986 I married Thomas P. Parnell. He and I did a lot of traveling. We went to Alaska and England. His parents and two brothers and two sisters came from England to the United States and he was born in Ohio in 1913. He died January 2nd, 2002. I had been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary; I am a charter and a life member. I have served as Secretary, President, and Treasurer.

I’m now 101 years old I still live in my own house. I belong to Saint Luke’s Lutheran Church of Saxonburg. I have been very blessed. God has been with me. Thank you.

 


It is hard for me to visit Pearl often not only due to my schedule, but also because of the emotions it evokes from me. I can’t help but tear up when I say goodbye to her and she tells me that she loves me and how much my visits mean to her. It isn’t easy watching someone you love get older, but her resilience and positivity never cease to amaze me. I once asked her how she was doing and with a smile she replied, “Well, my eyesight is going and can’t hear much anymore, but I’m doing fine.” Pearl will always have a special place in my heart, and it kills me to think of her leaving some day. She is a dear friend, a true believer, and I love her very much.