BRIGHTON — “Aunt Mary!” a little girl exclaimed upon spying Mary Hannick in an apartment corridor on a recent Sunday afternoon. The pair locked in a hug, then a beaming Hannick brought the child into her apartment to give her a container of soap bubbles.
Although Hannick never had children of her own, she attracts youngsters more easily than the Pied Piper and has thus played the role of Aunt Mary many times over in her life.
“When I’m in Friendly’s (ice cream parlor), I stop and talk to every child I see,” she noted proudly.
And she’s certainly a kid at heart, as evidenced by the directive she leaves on her answering-machine recording: “Have a little bit of fun today.” Those words go a long way toward defining the essence of Mary Florence Hannick, who will celebrate her 100th birthday on April 10.
If people connections factor at all into her longevity, then Hannick could well live to be 200. A living legend in the development of local social services, her positive attitude has helped better the lives for many thousand youths who passed through the settlement houses she operated.
She was born in Chicago, which also is the home town of Jane Addams, a pioneer of the settlement-house movement in this country.
“I kind of feel like she breathed on me,” she remarked.
Hannick moved to Rochester as a child, attending Blessed Sacrament parish and school and graduating from Monroe High School. Her first experience with settlement houses — facilities offering social services to the urban poor — was at Rochester’s Charles Settlement House in 1937, and she realized she had found her calling.
“I knew that’s where I belonged,” she said. “It wasn’t things, it was people. People came to you so willingly.”
She served as director at Charles for seven years, then briefly worked at Eastman Kodak Co. before joining the American Red Cross near the end of World War II, staffing hospitals in France and Germany. Upon returning to the states she planned to return to Kodak, but couldn’t resist the lure of the open directorship at Genesee Settlement House.
She stayed nearly a quarter-century at the now-defunct facility on Dake Street in Rochester, which provided a vital community meeting place for young residents of the inner city’s east side. Hannick guided such initiatives as an afterschool program featuring cooking, arts and crafts, and music; a sprawling summer-recreation camp; and a program for the developmentally disabled. She toiled tirelessly at Genesee on shoestring budgets; welcomed all regardless of race or language barrier; and strove to befriend all families in the neighborhood.
For her 1971 retirement, then-Rochester Mayor Stephen May issued Hannick a key to the city which she still enjoys showing visitors. In 2005 John Larish, a fellow parishioner of St. Anne Church in Rochester, published a book about her life, Only the Faces Are Different.
The list of Hannick’s honors, awards, achievements and civic involvements is a mile long. Among the highlights: she was on committees that oversaw development of the Al Sigl Center and Monroe Community College; the Hannick Center in Newark, a Catholic Family Center facility for women battling drug addiction, bears her name; she’s a current board member at Catholic Family Center and Volunteers of America as well as honorary board member at Mary Cariola Children’s Center; and she’s an adviser for the social-work department at Nazareth College. In fact, that department will host a 100th-birthday party for her on May 2, with Bishop Matthew H. Clark among the expected guests.
“They kind of own me, so I always have my birthday there,” she quipped.
Hannick gave up driving a couple of years ago, but friends and neighbors drop by her Brighton apartment often to visit and check on her. She attends Mass every Saturday at St. Anne Church, and her mind remains razor-sharp as she approaches her milestone birthday.
“God has been good. God has been very good,” she said. “I also had wonderful parents, who thought their daughter could do whatever she put her mind to.”
These days she fields calls regularly from people who attended the settlement houses or were staff members of hers.
“This phone is always ringing,” she said.
She mused that alternative careers may have yielded more money, but she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Nobody in this city is as rich as I am in people,” she stated.