By Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
At 106, Margaret Wilson Hendrickson can still do many tasks on her own. The independent woman still can stand, walk and make herself breakfast. Going to church with her family every Sunday is a must.
Although she requires the assistance of a hearing aid, she can still talk with and understand people around her.
“She has less wrinkles than I do,” said Betty Akers, Hendrickson’s daughter.
She certainly does not look like a woman over a century old, but the balloons from her birthday last month with the words, “Happy 106th Birthday” say otherwise.
And the turning points of her life are intertwined with history.
Margaret Wilson was born on May 12, 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.
But for the first few years of her life, she lived in Dalserf, Scotland, with her Irish father, David Wilson, and Scottish mother, Ellen Macauley Wilson.
Her father came to America to work as a coal miner and a year later, the family followed, counting themselves one of the many immigrants that called Ellis Island their port of entry.
“We sailed the ocean blues for about six weeks,” Hendrickson attempted to recall.
But official records show it was more like nine days.
A copy of the manifest from Ellis Island shows the then 3-year-old girl sailed on the S.S. Caledonia from Glasgow, Scotland, to New York on Nov. 18-27, 1911 accompanied by her mother, Ellen, then 27 years old, older brother, William, and younger brother, Alexander.
A year after their arrival, in 1912, a ship that also sailed the Atlantic, The Titanic, famously sank before arriving to New York.
The manifest also shows that the family’s final destination was Terre Haute with $25 in Ellen’s pocket.
Hendrickson recalls riding the train to Terre Haute and using the horse and buggy to a town near Dugger.
The family settled near Dugger where Hendrickson’s father worked in the coal mine for years. The family grew. Hendrickson and her six siblings went to school in the area.
But Hendrickson was the only one in her family to go on to college, which was not very common for women at that time.
“Some people thought I was doing the wrong thing,” she said.
But those people did not stop her from pursuing the American dream that her family “sailed the ocean blues” for.
Her daughter explained.
“They came to America to make a better life. Mother’s one that just does what she has to do,” Akers said.
In 1927, she completed a two-year degree in elementary education at Indiana State Normal School (now Indiana State University) and started teaching at a local school in Dugger.
“The first two years I taught seven grades in one room. I was my own janitor,” she said of the additional duties she had to do.
Regardless of the extra duties, Hendrickson was focused on her goals.
“I had to make a living some way. I felt like I had to take care of my family,” she said of her motivation to go to college and start teaching.
Then, the Great Depression hit close to home and she became the sole provider of her family of nine.
“What I have to do, I have to do,” she said.
But matters of the heart also began to play a role.
She met her future husband, Harry Hendrickson, a fellow teacher and later, principal.
“We got married secretly,” she said, so she could keep her job and support her family.
During the Depression, married women were not supposed to work because people thought they were taking jobs away from men, she said.
A year later, in 1931, however, the couple made it official. The union produced three kids, Martha, Betty and David.
Then, Hendrickson stayed at home to take care of her children and her step-daughter, Mary Helen.
But she would not stay at home for long.
In 1949, a few years after World War II, she completed a bachelor’s degree from ISU.
As soon as her children were going to school, Hendrickson went back to teaching.
At some point during her 26-year teaching career — she taught mostly third grade — the family moved to Terre Haute. Hendrickson and her husband got jobs in the area. She retired from Van Buren in 1968.
Although Hendrickson’s memory may be fading, teaching is a part of her life that she remembers fondly.
“The children. I love the children,” because they are eager to learn, she said.
And it appears they love her too.
Hendrickson said she has a student — now around 80 years old — who still sends her a birthday card every year.
“They knew I loved them,” she said.
“I just like people and I like children,” she said of her teaching career.
Hendrickson also taught her own children the value of education.
Her two daughters and a few of her grandchildren also went to ISU.
Just like many people, Hendrickson has had her share of health battles, and she is winning so far.
She is a colon cancer survivor and had triple bypass surgery in her late 80s.
But these did not stop her from being active.
Ever the independent woman, she drove until, well, people thought she shouldn’t drive anymore.
At 98 and a half years old.
Hendrickson said she is happy with her long, fulfilled life. But she thinks it might have been too long.
“Don’t ask for it,” she said.
Nevertheless, she started a family legacy of hard work, determination and education.
“I feel like I’ve done the best I knew how,” Hendrickson said.
“I wanted to live so I’ll be ready to go to the heavenly home,” she said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@trib