Catonsville 100-year-old's advice for longevity: 'Make yourself at home'

When word spread at the Brightview Catonsville assisted living facility that one of its residents was about to turn 100, residents tried to figure out who it was.

Charlotte Schenk would hear them talking and she'd laugh about it.


She might have been the only one who didn't think turning 100 was a big deal.

The 100th birthday in question was hers.


"It doesn't feel a darn bit different than when it did when I was 99," she said with a laugh.

Schenk has lived what she calls "a normal life."

On June 11, 1916, a cobblestoned Dillon Street, between Baltimore's East Avenue and Ellwood Avenue, was closed to horse-and-buggy traffic to keep the noise down while Elizabeth Garratt labored for hours, finally giving birth to her first child, Charlotte Cecelia.

She grew up in a city rowhome with her mother, sister, grandparents, aunt and three cousins until high school. That's when she learned lessons that she'd hold on to for nearly a century.


When asked to give advice about lasting to 100, she said to take life as it came and not to worry.

"If you got hurt and cried, my grandfather would say, 'Oh, that'll heal up and you'll forget you even had it,'" she said. "He'd get your mind right off it."

She would often quote a sonnet that her mother would share with her. The words of wisdom have made a lasting impact — her daughter turned the lines into cards that she gave out during her 100th birthday party.

"She'd say, 'Never worry about anything, through life just freely roam. The world belongs to all of us, so make yourself at home.'"

Charlotte Garratt graduated from the Institute of Notre Dame High School in June 1934; the year before, she had met Andrew Schenk. They were married six years later.

The two were married for nearly 63 years, living in Baltimore, Timonium and the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville before Andrew died in 2002. Together, they have two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The secret to a such a long marriage?

"We loved one another and we were always happy together," she said.

And she continued to stay worry-free.

Her husband would often ask when she would start worrying. Her response?

"Whenever I have to start, I know just how to do it by watching you."

She spent much of her career as a teller, first with Provident Savings Bank for 14 years before taking a job as the head teller at the Baltimore City Department of Social Services food stamp program. When the state took over the department, she became assistant manager, before retiring in 1979.

In retirement, she picked up quilting, sewing and line dancing as hobbies. Staying active has been important for her. These days, if she's not involved in one of the center's activities, she often spends time writing letters or reading a novel.

"It keeps you occupied," she said. "I don't like to look at things I don't get anything out of."

She moved to Brightview in December.

"She doesn't take herself too seriously and thinks it's really funny that we're making all of this fuss of her turning 100," said Barbara Sigler, a living director for the facility.

Schenk joins a table of six for daily meals that includes Mary Thompson, who describes Schenk as special and stylish. Every morning Schenk always appears dressed for something special, Thompson said.

"For 100, you would never know it," she said.

On her 100th birthday a luncheon was held at the facility with residents and some family. It included an appearance by the Oriole Bird — Schenk grew up as an avid baseball fan.

A few relatives told her they wanted to stick around for another day, but what Schenk didn't know was a surprise party had been planned for the following day.

That Sunday afternoon, she went to the building's activity room, where she saw a group of 33 people waiting to celebrate, much to her delight.

The family stayed for hours, until about 8 p.m., when Schenk told her daughter she was getting tired.

"Go home so I can get in bed," she said to her. "You can't keep an old lady up that long."

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