Defining success from start to finish

Defining success from start to finish

by Susan Neuhalfen

How do you define success? When you were a child and thought about what you’d be doing at this age, are you just where you thought you would be? Did you go to the college of your dreams? Did you pursue the career you thought you would? Are you successful by your definition?

I was contemplating these questions when I met a new friend. She’s 97 years old. She was born in 1919. Just let that sink in for a minute.

She walks with a cane though she could do without it. Her optimism is intoxicating and she remembers everything as if it happened five minutes ago.

“My whole life is unbelievable from start to finish,” she smiles.

Meet Marie. A transplant from Kansas, but following a fall in her Kansas farmhouse she now lives at Good Samaritan Society – Lake Forest Village, a senior living community in Denton, near her daughter and granddaughter who live in Flower Mound.

Marie grew up with a wonderful family but she didn’t have the perfect childhood. She had physical problems that many people would have felt plagued by, but not Marie. One such problem was with her vision. As a result, she was not allowed to study art in school because of her lack of depth perception. She loved art—she still loves art. However, Marie did not let the fact hold her back.

“Let me tell you,” she said with such animation. “I got to go to the library instead of art class and that was such a treat! They had Shakespeare and poetry and these big dictionaries…”

Graduating in 1936, she wanted very badly to go to law school. She even applied and was accepted at Washburn University in Topeka. That is, until there came a knock on the door. Marie answered the door to find the most polished man standing with a briefcase.

“I’m here to see A.M. Mann,” he said, removing his hat.

She knew she was in trouble. You see, A.M. Mann was the name she applied for law school under. Allie Marie Mann was her name. It was 1936 and women weren’t permitted to go to law school in 1936. Her father met with the man briefly.

Not only did she not get into law school, the man sent her father a bill for his trip. Her father said she could pay it if she wanted to, but he most certainly would not. The bill was never paid.

“I was only 17 and the bill was made out to me,” she smiled. “What could he do?”

What many would view as a setback just became a new opportunity for Marie. She went to Wichita Business College and became the best darn bookkeeper in Kansas, if not the United States.

“I was so popular with the IRS for doing a great job on people’s taxes, that they invited me to tour their building,” said Marie. “I got to see the parts most people never get to see.”

When her husband was in the Merchant Marines during WWII, they moved to New York and she went to work as a bookkeeper in the McGraw/Hill building. It was next door to Chase National Bank and she found herself making trips to the bank every day and it seemed the same gentleman got into the elevator with her every time.

“He was always asking me questions, just making small talk,” she remembered. “He was pleasant enough but there were times when I found his questions a little cumbersome.”

This was at a time when there were elevator operators to open and close doors and push the buttons for you. One day she entered the elevator alone and the operator closed the door and turned to her.

“You don’t know the man you usually ride in this elevator with, do you, ma’am?” he asked as she started at him quizzically. “That’s Nelson Rockefeller.”

She laughs when she tells that story and every other story. Every picture in her house has a story. Every painting in her house has a story behind it. Some stories are tragic and some are funny. She views them all the same.

She grew up at a time when women had nothing but glass ceilings, but instead of getting angry about it, she put her head down and worked to be the best at everything she did and she loved every minute of it.

Is she famous? Not really. Did she make a lot of money? Not really. Is she successful? Absolutely.

Success to her is loving life, plain and simple. She doesn’t love having arthritis but she does love doing needlepoint to help ease the pain. She misses her home in Kansas but she loves her new home and her new friends in Denton. She’s finally able to study art after several eye surgeries and she loves to paint. She’s had her share of tragedies which she doesn’t like to talk about, but will. She could have let any of these things cripple her, but she doesn’t. Her whole life is unbelievable from start to finish.

I don’t know about you, but that’s my definition of success.


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