WILLIAMSPORT — The 105-year-old retired Mount Airy school teacher sat on her floral-printed couch last week wearing a yellow, white and black striped button-up shirt, medical alert necklace and thick plastic bifocals.
Dorothy Lowman, who many of her friends call “Dot,” just celebrated her birthday at her apartment at Homewood in Williamsport with a parade two days before her birthday, on June 7, so she could be queen for a day. The chaplain drove her around in a jitney so she could wave at passersby, and her daughter Mary Lou brought her the family’s traditional caramel birthday cake — a recipe that Lowman’s sister got from the Arthur Godfrey radio show that has been a family staple ever since.
Her age is a milestone, and Lowman goes about her normal day reading the newspaper, letters and cards from friends, and walking three times a day to Homewood’s dining room for meals without trouble.
“The dining room is in a building that’s a little distance form her apartment building,” said Carroll County Retired School Personnel Association President Bonnie McElroy last week. “I mean, it’s not terribly far, but it’s a nice little hike, so she gets her exercise every day.”
Lowman said she has no secrets, though, for a long and healthy life — except maybe having eaten lots of vegetable soup and oatmeal, and growing up with her Aunt Lou taking good care of her.
The world has changed a lot since she was born Dorothy Buckingham in 1913, Lowman said.
She was born in Winfield and lived in Mount Airy with her father and four older brothers for much of her life. The family moved to Mount Airy after her mother died in 1921 during the Spanish flu epidemic, and her father supported them as a huckster, selling produce in Baltimore from the family farm.
It was a different time then, one where the United States was heading into the First World War and amenities were not abundant.
Lowman said her father bringing oranges home in the winter time — during their off-season — was one of her favorite childhood memories.
“The big thing was an orange,” she said, “because my father… bought a case of oranges. And all the children from my school came to visit us during the week we had off [from school.]”
Medicine has also changed. When Lowman’s mother died of the first of two H1N1 influenza virus pandemics in her 30s — one that killed 3 to 5 percent of the human population at the time — Lowman was only 8 years old.
“[The flu] killed many people,” she said. “And of course that was before miracle drugs. ... Of course there wasn’t much emphasis on epidemics. They didn’t understand and there were no shots.”
Lowman said she would have never guessed her life would be more than three times as long as her mother’s.
Another one of the biggest changes she has experienced, she said, was the change in the way people share information on the news.
“The Frederick paper was [my husband’s] bible, more or less,” said Lowman, “and he read that from cover to cover, if you know what I mean. [We also read] Reader’s Digest, National Geographic.”
She said when television first became popular, her family’s house was one of the last ones on the street to get a set — and that she barely watches it to this day. The focus on TV is more national and she wants to focus on what’s happening in her home state of Maryland.
The centenarian would rather watch the oak tree outside her living room window.
“I can tell what the weather is by watching it,” she said. “Whether it’s windy or not, the different seasons.”
When she started her career in education, Lowman spent about 14 years teaching fourth- and fifth-graders in Winfield before moving to Mount Airy Elementary and teaching for another 16 years.
The kids were interesting people, she said, and it was nice to get to know their families.
She married her husband, Lester Lowman, in 1941, and they gave birth to their daughter, Mary Lou, a few years later. Her husband died in 2002 — about four years after the couple moved to Homewood in 1998 — but her daughter, now 70, comes to see her at least once a week and is one of Lowman’s many visitors.
“Family is very important,” she said. “I couldn’t do without Mary Lou, who keeps my appointments and so on. She keeps me straight.”
She also has many family members who continue to visit her, as well as former colleagues and students who visit and send her cards and letters.
“Mount Airy is a small town,” said her daughter. “You just know everybody. It’s amazing the number of former students, people you’ve taught, that still get in touch with you.”
Since retiring in 1974, Lowman has been a member of the Carroll County Retired School Personnel Association and the Maryland Retired School Personnel Association and was inducted in the Mount Airy Hall of Fame for her work as a teacher. She was also active in the Mount Airy Garden Club.
On her birthday this year, Ann Marie Downey, president of the MRSPA, came to visit and award the 105-year-old one of the organization’s new pins.
“It’s serendipity,” said CCRSPA President Bonnie McElroy. “Dot has belonged to MRSPA for a very long time. [Now she is an] emeritus member.”
It was a great day for a birthday parade, too.
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“The sun actually was shining as she rode around the campus waving to well-wishers,” Downey said. “I certainly enjoyed our time together. Dot is a very remarkable lady!”