Celebrating a 100th birthday is a remarkable milestone. For Mary Ellen Scupham who turns 100 on January 6, it is a crowning achievement in a life filled with love, gratitude, learning and adventure.
From the time she was very young, Mary’s infectious smile, kindness and love of life have been obvious to all who know her. The second of four children, Mary grew up in West Frankfort, Illinois. She has wonderful memories of the house on OakStreet and her family, school, and church activities. In 1941 she left West Frankfort for Southern Illinois University where she intended to study journalism. A serious automobile accident derailed her studies, however, and hospitalization during her recovery and the entrance of the United States into World War IIchanged Mary’s career focus. The country was calling for nurses, and Mary answered the call.
She left small-town West Frankfort for Wesley Memorial Hospital’s School of Nursing in Chicago. While there, she met the love of her life, Bill Scupham, who was doing his medical residency. They married in 1945. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Long Beach, California, where Bill served as a physician in the U.S. Navy. They had two children in California before moving back to Illinois where Bill went into medical practice with his father. They had two more children, and built their family home in Flossmoor, Illinois, eventually adding another two children to their family.
Caring for the six children was a full-time job, but Mary made time to serve the church, the Junior Women’s Club, and the PTA. She was a strong advocate of “too much too soon,” urgingparents of pre-teens and teenagers to allow their children to remain children as long as possible.
In 1972, with the first four of their children grown and out of the house, Mary and Bill made the decision to leave Flossmoor and purchase and restore an historic Italianate home on Indiana Avenue in LaPorte. Bill continued his medical practice in LaPorte, and Mary became a familiar figure in the community, active in church, Questers, a poetry group, and Service League. Over the years, Mary directed nine Service League children’s plays, acting in some of these. Her poetry was published in several volumes.
Having visited many interesting and historical places over the years, Bill’s retirement in 1989 meant their insatiable curiosityabout the world could begin in earnest. Mary and Bill traveled to many wonderful places, immersing themselves in various countries’ history and culture. England, Finland, Greece, Turkey, Australia, the Caribbean islands, and Machu Picchu were among the locales the world travelers explored. They also spent considerable time at the cottages she and Bill had built on Lake Michigan.
In 2012, Bill’s declining health necessitated a move from the Indiana Avenue home to assisted living. Mary cared for Bill with love and devotion. With a book always close at hand, Mary maintained her ongoing curiosity through reading. After Bill’s passing in 2014, Mary filled her life with old and new friends, a continued love of reading and learning, and her six children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Mary’s longevity doesn’t really surprise her. “I made it to 100!” she grins. “I think it’s because I have always taken care of my health and kept my mind active. I’ve been a life-long learner. Bill used to say that I walked so fast and far ahead on our trips because I was so excited to know what was around the next corner. I’ve lived my life with a positive outlook, full of gratitude. Curiosity is my secret to happiness.”
Mary continues to make new friends and look forward to new adventures. She celebrated her 100th birthday with her friends and neighbors at Rittenhouse Village on January 5 and with 73 friends and family members at a Michigan City restaurant on January 6.