Card party will help woman celebrate century of life

She could have been secretary to the president of a major company, the young bride of a military leader or even a professional musician. But Mary Ellen "Ditty" Reck didn't let any obstacle or opportunity get in the way of her dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher.

"I was determined," said Reck, who in her 100 years of life saw that dream, and many others, become reality.

Born in 1921, Reck was just a few months old when she faced the first obstacle to realizing her dreams. As an infant she contracted polio, losing use of her left arm.

"I still cannot use that arm," Reck said. But that didn't stop her from learning to play the piano as a child and to continue playing throughout her life. As a young adult, she mastered the accordion, and even later in life, she learned the art of watercolor.

Graduating from college in 1944, Reck initially intended to teach high school students, but realized early in her training that she enjoyed seeing the strides that younger children made as they learned to read and write.

"I loved teaching first grade," Reck said, and after a 10-year hiatus to care for her own two children, she returned to school to earn her K-3 certification.

Reck spent decades as a teacher, but she's spent even more years as a student. A lifelong learner, she entered her 70s determined to master basic computer skills. In her first course at College of DuPage, she was partnered with a student nearly 50 years her junior.

Decades after starting her study of the Mandarin language, Reck is still learning to perfect it.

Of her 100 years, Reck said 2020 has been the longest and among the most challenging. As she sheltered in place, she's been grateful for the help and the company of family. She said she's also grateful for the technology that made it possible to keep up with her doctor visits from the comfort and safety of her couch.

"I'm amazed. I really am," Reck said of the technological advances she's seen and benefited from. And she's excited about the advances yet to come.

"So much is out there that we aren't even seeing yet," she said.

As she approaches her 100th birthday, the nickname she received in high school is still a fitting tribute to Reck's bubbly outlook and positive attitude. Reck still remembers the day in 1938 - her senior year of high school - when someone referred to a song on the school loudspeaker as a "happy little ditty." A friend decided the term also described Mary Ellen, and "Ditty" came to be.

She credits the happy disposition that earned her her nickname with also helping her to live a long and happy life. But no matter how many years it lasts, life is still short. Reck's advice is to spend it doing what you want to do and being who you want to be.

The party in honor of Reck's century of life will be scaled back due to COVID-19, but all who know her are invited to join in the celebration by sending cards, photos and memories to Mary Ellen Reck, P.O. Box 403, Hinsdale, IL 60522.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo courtesy of Daniel M. Reck

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean