PERKINSVILLE — Look up “homebody” in the dictionary, and you might just find a picture of Cecilia Johantgen staring back at you.
The unofficial historian of Perkinsville has resided for 97 out of her 100 years in the same house on County Route 90, near the center of this northern Steuben County hamlet. Her home was the scene of a big family celebration on March 10, the day of her 100th birthday.
“I was born right in this house,” Johantgen declared, adding that her parents were married there as well.
Johantgen, whose maiden name is Huette, is a descendant of German immigrants whose presence in Perkinsville dates back to the early 1800s. She said she’s never had the desire to live outside the area, stating that all her needs have been met right in her little corner of the world.
“I like the church, for one thing. We’ve got a nice church,” she said.
Sacred Heart Church, which can be seen from Johantgen’s front window, plays significantly into her family history. Her house once served as the Sacred Heart rectory, having been moved to its current location in the late 1800s. As a child Johantgen attended the former Sacred Heart School, in one of two classrooms that made up the school. She and her husband, Carl, were married at the church, and a large percentage of her five children, 21 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren have received their sacraments there.
Johantgen and her husband lived for three years in Dansville when they were first married, but moved back to the homestead to raise their family while living there with Johantgen’s parents and, at times, other relatives over the years. Johantgen’s husband, who died in 1995, was an adept machinist, shoe repairman and tinsmith. The couple was married 65 years.
Johantgen brightened at the memory of buying penny candy and penny gum in town, and being able to fetch a bucket of beer for 10 cents. She enjoyed getting out in the community, taking part in quilting bees and a pinochle club.
“When I was real young, I used to like to dance,” she said, recalling the frequent dances in the nearby fire hall. “Oh, the dances — Carl and I danced a lot.”
Between her sociability and longevity, Johantgen has acquired an unrivaled handle on Perkinsville and its people.
“People come to her and want to know years ago what happened. They ask her the questions, and she usually knows the answers,” said Johantgen’s daughter, Susan Conrad, adding that many times if a car went by, “she’d know who it was.”
“She can tell you who married who, and in what year,” added Linda Mitchell, one of Johantgen’s aides.
Johantgen has carried on her German heritage by passing the language on to younger generations.
“I still speak it. I never forgot it,” she said.
Before her eyesight began to fail, Johantgen was a top-notch quilter and crocheter; many of her colorful works beautify her house.
“And she could cook,” son Carl added, noting her proficiency with such German dishes as pork sausage and link sausage.
“I can do all that stuff. Homemade is a lot better,” she claimed.
She recalled transportation by horse-and-buggy and cutter sleigh, and noted that the family’s first motor vehicle was a 1922 Oakland.
“It was a nice car,” she said, but added that she only drove for a short time. “I quit. I didn’t like to drive.”
She is much more fond of such inventions as record players and televisions.
“We had a Victrola (hand-cranked phonograph), that’s what we had,” she said.
After TV came along, her favorite shows were “Search for Tomorrow,” “Playhouse 90,” “Climax Mystery Theater,” “I Love Lucy” and westerns. Frank Sinatra and Red Skelton rank among her favorite entertainers.
However, Johantgen is rather disillusioned with the distractions brought on by today’s glut of electronic conveniences.
“You know, the kids don’t play outside anymore,” she lamented.
Speaking of kids, many of her children and other relatives live nearby and pay her regular visits.
“They’re all good to me, and I wouldn’t give up one of them,” she said of her children, adding, “If I didn’t have kids, I’d be sitting here all alone.”
She was certainly not alone on March 10, as relatives came from near and far for what she called a “great” 100th-birthday party with cake, ice cream, coffee and a big group photo taken.
In addition, Father Quintus Fernando — former parochial vicar at Holy Family Parish, of which Sacred Heart is a part — recently called from Sri Lanka to wish her a happy 100th birthday. And last year, she was paid a birthday visit by Bishop Matthew H. Clark.
“I had the bishop on my 99th birthday, and I’ll have the pope for the next one,” she quipped.
Johantgen hasn’t been out much during the cold weather, but has maintained her Sunday ritual of watching a televised Mass.
“I’m not too bad. I’m getting so I walk with a walker,” she said.
She’s looking forward to warmer weather to sit out on the porch and to garden: “I love to go do my flowers.”
Her eyesight is very limited, but Johantgen’s children said her mind is top-notch. She appears to be tickled pink about turning 100, though she said it’s taken some getting used to.
“I don’t think I feel that old,” she said.
Why, she’s a regular youngster within Holy Family Parish: Elizabeth Wolcott of St. Pius V Church in Cohocton, who was featured in the Courier in April 2006, was due to turn 103 on April 14.
As Johantgen accepted a visitor’s congratulations for her milestone birthday, she offered a parting quip.
“You know what? I’m working on 200 now,” she said, laughing heartily.