By Tony DeGol
“Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”
You have undoubtedly heard that catchy tune by Bobby McFerrin, right?
For Frances Adams, it is more than a song. It is a way a life.
“I’m a happy person,” she assured. “I don’t dwell on grudges or getting back at someone. That isn’t my forte. I’m mostly happy.”
So, why is this noteworthy?
Frances just celebrated her 103rd birthday, and she attributes her longevity to avoiding stress and counting her many blessings.
Those guiding principles were instilled in her years ago during her career in vocational rehabilitation.
She met a man with two prosthetic legs. Until then, Frances had little or no interaction with anyone with physical limitations. It intrigued her to see the gentleman seemingly carefree.
“It just floored me,” she recalled.
When she asked him what makes him so happy, he told her that one should always look up and see the sky, sun, and stars. Do not look down.
“It stayed with me,” she confessed.
Frances is by no means the oldest person living in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, but she is the oldest member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Altoona.
Originally from Saint Mark Parish in Altoona, the stylish and charming lady also credits her Catholic faith for much of the fulfillment in her life.
“It was so calming,” she explained. “I had a feeling I wasn’t alone – that I could communicate with somebody – with God, and get rid of any stresses. It was good to go to Confession, too. I always felt relieved when I went to Mass and received Communion and prayed with other people. I can’t imagine not having a church to go to.”
She and her family’s strong faith life was facilitated by living only blocks away from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
“My children could go to school and church here very easily because we’re so close, and that was a comfort,” she added.
Born on June 30, 1916, Frances attended Saint Mark School and fondly remembers the Sisters of Mercy who staffed the school. A 1934 graduate of Altoona Catholic High School (now Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School, two Sisters of Saint Agnes who taught her there inspired her greatly.
She and her husband married in 1941, not long after the Great Depression. They had four children. Her two sons, both deceased, lived across the street from the family home. Her daughters-in-law, Donna Adams and Natalie Adams, still reside there. Both are also members of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Her daughter, Patricia Shingler, lives not far from her mother and also belongs to the parish. Her other daughter, Regina Piecknick, lives in Erie and was in Altoona for her mother’s birthday celebration.
“She’s really the glue that’s been keeping the family together,” Piecknick stated. “She’s the matriarch and everyone circles around her. People come to her for advice, and they talk to her. She’s very involved in the family.”
Not only is it a blessing for Frances to mark her 103rd birthday, but also for her to be healthy and engaged.
“It’s very wonderful for me to come home and visit her and have her here and spend time with her and have long talks with her about lots of issues going on in our society,” Piecknick admitted.
Frances follows politics and remains an avid reader.
“There are a lot of good conversations,” added her daughter.
Besides raising a family and various jobs in the secular world, Frances’ service to the Church throughout the years is immeasurable.
She was the parish secretary at Our Lady of Lourdes for several years, and has held various volunteer positions, including serving as Grand Regent of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. She also formed the Altoona Catholic Sorority for young women.
Frances’ husband passed in 1995. Despite the loss, her zest for life clearly remains.
Among her passions are music – she plays the piano and violin – and playing cards. She has also traveled extensively to places such as Italy, France, Ireland, England, Spain, Hawaii, and Alaska.
“I liked Ireland,” she admitted. “I liked the differences in all of the counties. All of them had certain things that were special.”
Perhaps her greatest joy is family. Frances beams with pride when it comes to her nine grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.
Those great grandkids are proud members of her Shining Star Club, which she created for the gang.
“I’m very proud of them,” she said. “They’re just a great group of young people.”
As Frances continues her life journey, she is one of many great examples of a lifetime of love and service. May she enjoy many more happy and healthy years.