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    For 102nd birthday, she gives to the Earth


    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001

    Birthday gifts usually go to the celebrant. But Margaret Clarke has her own ideas about such things -- she who prefers to give the presents on her birthday.

    On Jan. 13, the gentle lady known for her love of verse and growing things, celebrated 102 years of life. To mark the occasion, Mrs. Clarke made a special present to Mother Earth and to her friends and neighbors at Regency Oaks Retirement Community. She planted a young hybrid cypress tree on the grounds of the community that she has called home since 1987.

    The tree was one of 100 seedlings that Mrs. Clarke had given as presents on her 100th birthday in 1999, when she was feted at a cocktail party at Recency Oaks and at a dinner party at Clearwater Beach Hotel attended by family and friends who had come from as far away as Alaska and Germany.

    At the dinner party on that milestone occasion, each guest found before them a very special table favor -- a tiny cypress seedling that the centenarian had personally and carefully wrapped in cellophane. Each was accompanied by a rhyme she had written:

    * * *

    This family tree,

    Your tree will be,

    If it grows for you,

    As it's grown for me.

    Water with love and give it sun,

    And you'll sit in the shade

    When your best year's come."

    * * *

    And on her 102nd birthday, one of those seedlings came back to her as a special gift -- healthy and ready to be planted in its special place at the retirement community. Mrs. Clarke participated in the planting, which was followed by a party.

    Mrs. Clarke moved to Regency Oaks three years after her husband, William, died. The Clarkes first came to Dunedin in 1951 when he took a position as manager of Snow Crop, a citrus juice manufacturing plant later known as Hood's.

    The couple lived many years on Edgewater Drive in Dunedin, except for three years when they were in Indonesia and Taiwan, where he worked as an engineering consultant.

    Born Jan. 13, 1899, Mrs. Clarke was the daughter of Hugh Robinson McNair and Margaret Belle Culbertson and a descendant of the McNair Scottish clan that came to Pennsylvania in 1738. She taught kindergarten for four years before she married.

    Mrs. Clarke's interest in growing things comes naturally. She grew up with two sisters, three brothers and dozens of cousins at Engleside, the ancestral home built by her great-grandfather, Judge James McNair. A fruit nursery, it was one of several 100-acre farm plots near Danville, N.Y., where her family relocated in the 1800s.

    The tidy apartment she maintains independently at Regency Oaks is furnished with antiques such as a grandfather clock that traveled with the McNair clan through Indian lands. Popular at Regency Oaks, she reads extensively and writes a column for the community newsletter.


    Mary and Paul Wise of Palm Harbor recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. They were married Dec. 21, 1940, by her father, the Rev. B.W. Jones in Delta, Pa.

    They came here in 1979 from Lake St. Louis, Mo., where he retired after a 40 year career in aerospace engineering. He graduated from Penn State University and worked for the Glenn L. Martin Co., Baltimore, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, Washington, D.C., and McDonnell Douglas Co., St. Louis.

    She graduated from Hood College and was a schoolteacher, pianist/organist and homemaker. They have two sons, Walter, a pilot in Denver, Colo., and Bruce, an insurance executive in Chicago, and six grandchildren. They are members of Northwood Presbyterian Church, Palm Harbor.

    * * *

    Mary Jo and Truman Conner of Seminole celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary recently with a sunset renewal of vows ceremony and reception at East Bay Country Club, Largo. The party was given by their children Richard, Cynthia and Christopher Conner and Stephanie Leverenz.

    A niece from Indiana sang as the couple walked down the aisle. Their six grandchildren and a great grandchild (ages 6 months to 28 years) participated in the ceremony. In 1975 their four children had participated in a similar celebration of the couple's 25th wedding anniversary. Ninety-five friends and family from all over the country and England attended the ceremony, buffet and dance that followed. They were married Dec. 24, 1950, at West Side Gospel Tabernacle, Indianapolis.

    They came here in 1958 from Indianapolis. He worked 32 years as chief electrician at National Gypsum and she worked five years in management at Guarantee Auto Sales. They are members of FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association). Active travelers, they have visited each state, 12 countries in Europe and have been on several cruises. They are members of First Assembly of God Church, Clearwater.

    * * *

    Margaret and Earlie Stovall of Palm Harbor, formerly of Clearwater, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a dinner for family and friends at the Holiday Inn, Tarpon Springs. They further plan to celebrate with a cruise and land tour of Alaska during the summer. They were married Dec. 22, 1950, at the home of the groom's parents in Tampa.

    They came to Clearwater in 1984 from Indianapolis after both retired from Western Electric-Lucent Technologies, and in 1995 moved to Palm Harbor. They are members of Palm Harbor United Methodist Church, several clubs at Lake Tarpon Mobile Home Village, and Telephone Pioneers. They have two children, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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