Capital Region Scrapbook: Former Schenectady resident about to turn 100, keeps looking forward
Donn Sweet will probably have a great laugh in the great hereafter on Friday.
As a young soldier in Vietnam, Sweet was always writing letters to his mother, Marion Berning Sweet. Donn was concerned his mother’s extra weight eventually would mean an early grave. He nicknamed her “Toombie.”
Donn Sweet died in a firefight on July 25, 1968. The man had a sense of humor, and would have appreciated the fact that Marion never needed his advice. She will celebrate her 100th birthday on Friday.
“I think Donn would be surprised,” Marion said in an email interview. “He worried about my health.”
Marion Berning was born in 1911, a daughter of Scotia’s William and Clara Brandhorst Berning. William Berning owned a coal, wood and feed business on Front Street, which became the scene of some of Marion’s earliest adventures.
“One time, his business caught fire and burned for days because of all the coal in the yard,” said Joan Sweet Brault of Avon, Conn., Marion’s eldest daughter. “He brought Marion and her brother Howard over to see the fire.
“Another time, Marion and Howard were left in the car in front of the business,” Brault said. “Howard was 2, Marion was 8. Somehow, Howard managed to release the brakes. Marion got behind the wheel and steered the car to the side.”
Marion graduated from Schenectady High School in 1929 and began training at the Ellis Hospital School of Nursing. By then, the Sweets were living at 900 Union St. (now 1000 Union St.)
As a young woman, Marion met Alva L. Sweet, a Wisconsin man who had moved to Schenectady as part of the General Electric Co. “test” program. Marion and Al often double-dated with pals Marvin Morack and Dorothy Bowers. The new nurses graduated on Oct. 14, 1932, and both couples married the next day. “Nurses in training were not allowed to get married,” Brault said.
“Marion is the only one left from her class at Ellis,” Brault added, “and from the group of GE engineers and their wives that used to socialize together. That group was called the ‘sewing circus.’ The wives got together once a month for sewing and socializing. The whole group got together on New Year’s Eve, often at 900 Union St. Mom is the only one still living from that group, but she keeps in touch with the children.”
Summers at Galway Lake
The Sweets and their children — Evelyn was the youngest child — spent summers at Ruback’s Grove on the east shore of Galway Lake. The family moved to Roanoke, Va., in 1956. Al Sweet died from lung cancer on Sept. 21, 1961.
Marion currently lives with Evelyn — “Evie” — in Conyers, Ga., outside Atlanta. She is happy with her senior status, and approaching 100th birthday.
“Everyone makes a great fuss over you,” she said. “Not often does one get a chance like this. Wow!”
She has no secret for longevity. “I have no idea,” she said. “Most of my family died at very young ages. I’m the only one who has lasted this long.”
Evelyn Sweet-Hurd can offer an explanation. “Those of us who know her attribute her longevity to her sense of humor, her optimism, and her always looking forward, not back,” she said. “The number of friends she has is beyond counting.”
Marion has had many favorite times. One day stands out in particular: “The day I got married to a wonderful man,” she said. “And raising three kids — an education in itself.”