Friends, family, former students and more turned up in full force for Mary Gallivan’s birthday party, celebrating her 100th year, on Sunday, Dec. 1, in Bolivar.
Friends of Mary — who lived in Bolivar for most of her life until moving away some years ago to be closer to her daughter — said she is known for her strength in the face of adversity, her teaching career and her apple butter cooking skills.
Reflecting on her 100th birthday, Mary said the milestone “makes you think back a lot of years because you don’t plan as much in the future.”
“It feels blessed,” Mary said, “and how it happened, I don’t know.”
She noted there were “bad things” in her life that she had lived through. But, she said there were many good things, and she was thankful to be 100 years old and still able to see everybody she loved.
Thinking back through the decades, Mary pinpointed some memorable experiences.
“Of course, living here you always remember the tornado of ‘29,” she said. “We stood and watched it as it was coming toward us in the south part of Bolivar. Fortunately, it turned and went east so that it didn’t hit us.”
In fact, Mary said the house she was born in still stands today in Bolivar.
“I can remember the town branch used to get up way high and come roaring down through, close to where city hall was,” she said.
In town, she also climbed to the top of the Polk County courthouse and “stuck my head out the door where the clock was,” she said.
She also remembers how close she was to a legendary crime in Bolivar.
“I was living in an apartment across the street from where they kidnapped the mayor, Jack Killingsworth,” she said.
According to previous BH-FP coverage, Killingsworth was six months into his term as Polk County Sheriff in 1933 when he was held at gunpoint and kidnapped by the infamous Oklahoma outlaw Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, 26, and his cohort in crime, Adam Ricchetti, 23, a Bolivar native.
“They took him for a ride for about a day,” Mary said.
On a larger scope, though, she said the world has significantly changed in the past 100 years.
“I worry about wars, serious things like that,” she said. “I think in some cases there are positive changes in health — things like that. But on the other hand, I see things that don’t look very good to me.”
Regarding her friends and family turning out for her birthday celebration, Mary said she appreciated the support.
“Oh my word — it’s just a wonderful, wonderful feeling,” she said.
Down to earth
For 21 years, Mary was a teacher at Bolivar’s Leonard Elementary School, now known as Bolivar Primary School.
One of her former students, Francis Skalicky, showed up to the birthday party to celebrate his teacher’s special occasion.
“Mary was my third grade homeroom teacher,” Skalicky said.
He noted while she was a nice teacher, she didn’t let any “horseplay” go on.
“So she was kind of old school with that, but she was very nice,” Skalicky said. “She was just very down to earth. It’s hard to describe, but she knew her stuff in a very personable way.”
Like Mary’s grandchildren and many other friends who were gathered at the party, Skalicky remembered Mary’s hobby of cooking apple butter.
“That was the best day ever. One day she just said, ‘Oh, me and Mrs. Playter made apple butter, and here’s apple butter,’” he said. “That was a fun little treat.”
Skalicky also noted Mary loved her students, and it showed.
“She was very concerned with her students, and she got along well with her fellow teachers,” he said. “And I think the biggest statement to what kind of person she was is how many people are here today.”
‘The rock of everything’
At the packed party, Mary’s grandchildren Stacy Jones, MeriAnn Gallivan, Matthew White, Laura Pacunas and Sarah Junk offered their views of their grandmother.
Stacy said her earliest memories of Mary entailed going down to her house for Christmas — a time of the year when Mary always had pretzel desserts and chocolate pie on hand, she said.
“No matter how late it was, she’d always have a chocolate pie waiting for us,” MeriAnn said.
Sarah said one of her earliest memories was going through Dunnegan Memorial Park with Mary and feeding the ducks.
Likely enough, apple butter was something Matthew remembered.
“We made apple butter under the big oak tree in the backyard, and that was a family tradition each year,” Matthew said.
They each agreed Mary has been an important force in their family through the generations.
And through the decades, Mary exerted strong character despite the ups and downs, Matthew said, and she’s “stayed pretty constant.”
“She’s been through a lot,” Laura said. “She is one of the strongest women — losing her husband, losing her son. We never knew our grandfather, but then the stories she has told, it felt like we knew Grandpa Gallivan.”
MeriAnn said Mary’s famous quote is, “No matter what trouble you have, it won’t last forever.”
“She’s the rock of everything,” Laura said through tears, while Stacy added, “She is the glue that holds us together.”