Teacher, traveler, activist, mother, and ukulele player still “living right”
by Jennifer Yos
LANSING, Ill. (December 2018) – The setting was 1914, just days before Christmas, in a house in Lansing that still stands today on Grant Street. Mabel Vierk was in the middle of preparing a Christmas fruitcake when she found herself unable to continue. The expectant mother realized the birth of her baby was imminent.
Home births in 1914 were common, but what makes the story of this Lansing birth remarkable is that it was recently recounted 104 years later by the very daughter who was born that December 20 to Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Vierk. Rhoda (Vierk) Murphy, celebrating her 104th birthday, told a roomful of party guests—friends and family—in her Lansing condo: “I think Mother was peeved that I came in the middle of baking her Christmas fruitcake. She didn’t get to finish!”
Those who have pre-conceived doubts about a centenarian’s mental clarity or energy level need only meet Mrs. Rhoda Murphy once to be set straight. During her birthday party, Murphy was in command of the room, giving special attention to each of her guests. In her presence, it becomes clear why she was such a beloved teacher for much of her life. Her friends at the party also attest that she is a great ukulele player.
Though her life experiences and teaching career have taken her to places as far as Egypt, Rhoda Murphy has stayed connected to the Lansing community, and for many years has lived in a condominium building her uncle built not far from the house where she was born.
When Rhoda was a little girl, her father, Arnold Vierk, served as Mayor of Lansing from 1919–1921. When she was grown, she married Bill Murphy, and they moved to California where she was a teacher. The Murphys had one daughter, Patty.
After Bill died, Rhoda returned to Illinois and taught for 25 years at Lansing’s Lester Crawl Middle School. Her fifth-grade classroom alumni include former Lansing Mayor Norm Abbot and Bud Eidam—husband of Lansing’s current Mayor Patty Eidam.
Mrs. Murphy also taught for 14 years in the Hammond, Indiana, school system. Her daughter Patty eventually married and moved to Egypt, and because Mrs. Murphy wanted to visit her daughter and two granddaughters, Sumaya and Doreia, she taught in Egypt for five summers in a row. “I still think I could go in there and teach!” says Mrs. Murphy about her Egypt years.
Throughout her teaching career, Mrs. Murphy was a union activist for the AFT (American Federation of Teachers). At her party she shared the disappointment she felt years ago when she learned what her Illinois pension would be after 25 years in the classroom. “The moral is,” she advised, “if you are going to get this old, save your money!”
At one point, one of her guests asked, “How do you stay well?”
“I live right,” she answered matter-of-factly.
“She behaves herself,” caregiver Maria Miron added. “We learn from her how to be strong.”
If a person is judged by the company they keep, Mrs. Rhoda Murphy is in good standing. Her friend of 40-plus years, Linda Mudra, graciously hosted a beautiful party with a spread of sweets and refreshments, which included caregiver Maria’s homemade donuts. Friends and family, who had shared with her news and memories, surrounded her and sang the Happy Birthday song, after which Mrs. Murphy enthusiastically sang the song’s tagline: “And many moooore!”
- Lansing’s oldest resident celebrates 111th birthday (August 2018)