LONDON, Ohio — Martha Jane Mabe sat in front of her Consew sewing machine, carefully applying the school patch to the London High School jacket.
It was Wednesday afternoon, May 17 at Mabe’s Clothing and Athletic Apparel, the downtown London business that has been a part of her family for almost a hundred years.
It was a special day for Martha, and she said she was determined to be on the job that day of all days. Wednesday was her 100th birthday.
“I wanted to be able to work on my 100th birthday … if possible. It is very important to me. I wanted to make sure that no one made me do it, not my kids — nobody. I wanted to do what I want to do,” she said. “I did this all on my own.”
Carefully turning the London track and soccer varsity jacket on the sewing machine and applying the sports letters and patches, Martha talked with pride about her family’s business and her desire to work each day.
Born Martha Jane Moody in Madison County, she has lived here almost all her 100 years. “I was born on Xenia Road just outside of town and lived there practically my whole life.”
The business has been part of their family since 1919, just a couple of years after she was born. Her husband, Robert, was a partner in the company with founder Wilber Hume. Martha’s children are: David, Robert, Rebekah, and James, who has passed away; 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.
On her 100th birthday, Martha didn’t hesitate to discuss her years of working at the family business. But all the while she continued to work on the London High School jacket. She said that sometimes threading the needle can be a challenge when she starts her work. “I sometimes have to ask Dave (her son and owner) for help,” she said. But on her birthday, her eyesight was sharp. “Well, I was lucky. I got it on the first try,” she said, and started work on the many patches that adorn the cloth and leather jacket.
All the time she talked, the sewing machine continued to whir and she moved the jacket around, taking care to get the patches and sport letters in the right locations. “You have to pull the lining and everything. It can be bulky.” She pointed out that she once sewed and embroidered a 5XL jacket. “That’s the largest jacket I have ever done.”
She says all the jackets she sews and embroiders are different. “It usually takes three to four hours for each one.”
She has been doing the sewing and embroidery work from about 1970. “I do this because I enjoy doing it. I used to do all the embroidery work by hand, on the hand machine. But not any more. I just don’t have the time.”
About a month ago, she took a fall and injured her back. She was off a few weeks, but said her time away from the daily routine of work took its toll on her. “I can see people staying at home and getting stagnant. But that wasn’t for me.”
She said she would never consider not working as long as her health allowed.
That’s no surprise to her son David, who runs the South Main Street business.
“She is very down to earth. She appreciates hard work and loyalty,” he said. “She tries to help people out as much as she can. She is very sharp. Physically she is in very good shape. She comes here to work about three hours a day.” He said she just gave up driving her car a few months ago. “It was her call. She just didn’t think she had the strength in her legs to apply the brakes. She had a pretty defined path or home to here (the store) and back.”
He said he is very proud of his mother. “Not everyone has a chance to work with their mother for 43 years. I see her about 300 days a year. She is just a wonderful person. She helped me with raising my kids. She was always there for all of us, helping in every way she can.”
He said it is her daily sewing and embroidery work at their store that has “kept her going the last 20 years or so. My father passed away when he was 69, and the work has kept her motivated.” He said working at the store has always been her call.
“It is her fountain of youth, her magic elixir. Instead of sitting at home, working has been good for her physically and mentally. She worked all of her life, there wasn’t much time for vacations.”
He said she is, “One of a kind. I’ve never known anyone like her and I don’t think there will ever be anyone like her,” he added.
When asked about the future, Martha paused and thought a moment.
She said she may stop coming in to work every day, “Probably this fall.” But she don’t want to call it a retirement.
“I just do as I feel. I come when I feel like it, every day,” she said.
When she is not doing the store’s sewing and embroidery work, what does she enjoying doing? “I used to love getting out and mowing. I do a lot of thinking while I’m mowing,” she said.
Her advise to those wanting to live a long life? “Always stay busy. That is what has been best for me. It is very easy to get stagnant and not do anything. If you enjoy what you are doing and you are helping someone, then do it. I can see people saying that when they retire, they just don’t do anything. But I don’t want to be that way. I want to be self-sufficient and do as much as I can and take care of things,” she said.
She said she never smoked, never drank any alcohol. She added that longevity ran in her family, with a number of siblings living into their 90s.
“I have worked all my life. I feel work never hurts anybody.”
She said the London community has been very good to them and their business. “I always to try to buy everything I can from London businesses,” she said during an informal birthday gathering Wednesday that included Mayor Pat Closser and members of the Downtown London Association, who brought a cake to celebrate her 100 years.
Son Robert Mabe echoed his mother’s feelings about the London community. “We owe this community a debt we can never repay.”