Veteran Marie Houghton Mong: Mapping out a long life of doing

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Marie Houghton Mong relaxes with one of her two 16-year-old cats at The Terraces at Los Altos retirement community.

On the average day, Marie Houghton Mong can be found in her attractive and comfortable apartment at The Terraces at Los Altos in the company of her two 16-year-old cats.

She plays mahjong once a week and exercises “reluctantly.” She reads the Chronicle and the New Yorker magazine daily, does the crossword puzzles, and assists with a regular current events class at The Terraces. She still does her income taxes by herself.

What makes this even more remarkable is that Mong turns 100 June 1.

Mong was born in 1916 in Paoli, Penn.

“I lived in the country – there was lots to do. Your imagination grew day by day,” she said.

Her father was an insurance broker and her stay-at-home mother an avid gardener.

Mong attended a private high school in Philadelphia – the Agnes Irwin School for Girls – and studied French and Spanish. College was not an option, she said, as it was the Depression era and there were “not many colleges for girls then.”

After high school, Mong got a job in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Army map service, “bringing Army maps up-to-date – very hush-hush work.” They worked from aerial photographs, she said, “putting two and two together.”

While working for the Army, she said she was “surrounded by Navy,” and in 1942 joined the Navy Nurses’ Corps as a corpsman. She was in the Navy only two years but received a lot of training in nursing.

Mong then married and moved to Menlo Park with her husband. They had two children, a boy and a girl. When they were old enough, she started volunteering with a nursery school at the Children’s Health Council. In 1955, she was asked to start another preschool for “less-capable kids – there was nothing for them at that time,” she explained.

Thus began her career at the nursery school at C.A.R. (now called Abilities United) in Palo Alto. Mong worked there until 1975, “until the state took it over. I had always wanted to work with these kids,” she said.

Mong has lived at The Terraces for approximately 11 years.

“You lose the value of time – a day is a day,” she noted.

A life of ‘doing’

Although the past couple of years have been physically challenging – she had heart failure and can’t walk much anymore due to hip problems – mentally, she is an inspiration.

“I still have my marbles,” she said.

Asked if she was up on modern technology, such as the Internet and email, she responded, “No, I’ve never given into it. (And) I can get more out of the newspaper than the TV, the kinds of things I like. I hate to see the newspapers (having trouble).”

Mong enjoyed traveling, and visited Europe and China. She also loved to garden as long as she was able.

“I’m used to doing, and I trained my kids that way – they both were doers,” she said.

Mong had some advice for today’s young parents: “Let your kids alone – let them figure some things out for themselves. My mother and father would take me where I needed to go – once. The second time, I had a map. When I was 12 years old, I went from Paoli to Philadelphia by myself with that map – to the dentist, the foot doctor. … (Kids) need to be independent. I learned a lot and it wasn’t hard for me to get along in the service. I went to school on the train at age 8. We weren’t babied.”

As for her longevity, Mong explained that her mother lived to be 100, too, though she was bedridden at that age.

To celebrate her special birthday, Mong plans to have lunch and a party at The Terraces with her family. Guests will be traveling from Austin and Dallas, Texas, and Eugene, Ore.

In addition to her son, she has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

And locally, she says of The Terraces staff, “you are a family here.”

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