When Anna Ferree smiles - and she smiles often - ripples of happiness spread out around her. This cheerfulness, no doubt, accounts for her having collected so many friends throughout the years. Her good nature, however, is not the result of an easy life, for hers was anything but easy. Rather her disposition comes from a positive outlook.
"When something bad happens," she said, "somehow God sends along something good as well."
Anna, born in 1920, grew up near Wilkes-Barre in the coal-mining area of Pennsylvania. She graduated from high school but remained living at home until 1944, when she met, fell in love with and married Joseph Miles Ferree. He graduated from Penn State and was working for the state Department of Agriculture assessing the status of Pennsylvania forests.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
In 1945, their first child Mickey was born. Two years later, they moved to Richfield Springs and Miles took a job at Syracuse University. This was followed by a move to Binghamton, N.Y., where he worked for two years.
In 1950, Miles found a job in Saranac Lake. About moving to this Adirondack village, Anna remembers how "I thought I was at the end of the world."
They lived here but four years before being transferred back to Syracuse, where Miles was hired to teach forestry courses. This job required he spend most of his time indoors and, even worse, wear a suit and tie. Such was not to his liking. When a job opened up in the Adirondacks, he jumped at the chance to return to the area.
The young couple was able to finally settle permanently in Saranac Lake, eventually buying an old cure cottage on Riverside Drive, a fully furnished and renovated home. Included in this purchase was the piano on which Bela Bartok's wife once played his new compositions. In later years, Anna donated the piano to Historic Saranac Lake.
Miles' job involved determining the size, health and status of Adirondack tree colonies. One method for doing this was to make aerial photographs. These were studied by using a stereoscopic viewer which created three-dimensional images revealing fairly accurate pictures of the woods.
While Miles was off working, Anna stayed home and raised their four children: Mickey, born in 1945; Suzy, 1954; David, 1958; and Sally, 1959. At the same time, Anna actively participated in Presbyterian Church life and for 30 years organized all its rummage sales.
1971 was the start of a series of tragic events. Sadly, in January, Miles died of a chronic liver problem. As a youth, he had worked brushing orange paint on to iron bridges. Anna suspects that paint, later found to be highly toxic, was the cause of his untimely death.
Then tragedy struck a second time, again in 1971 when their oldest child, Mickey, married and with a baby, died in a car accident. Anna says that, horrific as it was, she was fortunate to have a daughter-in-law, Vesta, who even though she later remarried continued to include Anna in their lives - considering her a grandma not only to her first child but to the five born later of her second marriage.
Her children have now brought Anna nine great-grandchildren.
"I have such a wonderful relationship with Vesta. She has been so good to me," Anna said.
You would think that such tragedies could not continue, but they did. In 1974, their son David, 17, was killed in a car accident.
It is a tribute to Anna that she managed to carry on and successfully raised her girls. One day a neighbor asked if Anna would watch her boys for a couple of days during the week. Anna replied, "Gladly." She found it a delightful task. Word spread that Anna was a good caregiver. Before she knew it, she had acquired a slew of young children to look after, some of whom she occasionally kept overnight. Expectant mothers, anxious to reserve time with Anna to keep their older children when they went to deliver, would tell her they were pregnant, before even informing their husbands and doctors. Children and parents alike were devoted to her.
Anna had found her calling. She returned to school, acquiring a certificate to operate a certified day care. This she continued to do for the next 30 years, not retiring until 80 years old when she said, "The stairs were beginning to get steep." She is happy to say that "today, I still hear from most of the children."
Anna then sold her house and moved into the DeChantal apartment building, not to sit quietly but to continue helping the community. Until age 87, she shoveled all the sidewalks for the Presbyterian Church. On the church property, she created and maintained a Memorial Garden of lilies and irises and also converted a weed-filled ditch into a native flower plot. For this last effort, she was awarded a certificate of recognition from the Village Improvement Society. This year, at age 90, Anna no longer plans to garden, not from lack of energy but because "the deer have found my flowers and they just mow everything down."
Anna has a wonderful sense of humor exhibited in recent years by her hilarious appearances at the Winter Carnival. One of her best was the time she dressed as a "floozy" for a Roaring '20s-themed parade. She dyed her hair red, wore sexy clothes and carried a bottle from which she liberally pretended to imbibe.
Referring to DeChantal, she says, "This is a nice place to live." A few years ago she helped set up a library and lounge downstairs where residents go to find books, read, work jigsaw puzzles or just sit and talk. She hears a lot of stories from her neighbors. "Folks often need someone to listen to them, and so I do."
Adept with needle and thread, Anna creates an astonishing number of brightly colored cloth bags designed to carry everything from groceries to knitting; most of these she gives away. Other sewing projects have included children's clothes, towels and pot holders.
When not at work with fabrics, Anna reads. Her love of history has led her to travel extensively, visiting such places as China, New Zealand, the British Isles, Australia, Europe, Alaska and Hawaii.
Much of her reading is related to activities of the Reviewer's Club, a select, invitation-only group founded 100 years ago for the purpose of studying history and literature. She has been an active member since1958.
Looking back on Anna's life, it is easy to understand why, "Anna Ferree, Anna Ferree, How dearly folks cherish your company. Listening and laughing while you sew and mend, A person is lucky having you as a friend."
Based on an interview with Anna Ferree. Caperton Tissot can be reached at her website, www.SnowyOwlPress.com.