PIQUA — In 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 auto race was run, Orville Wright remained in the air aboard a glider for nine minutes and 45 seconds, Chevrolet entered the auto market to compete against the Ford Model T and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was born. Of special significance, however, was the birth of Piqua native Elinor (May) Gattshall, who celebrated a milestone 105th birthday on Sept. 4.
Surrounded by celebratory bouquets, birthday wishes and family gifts, Gattshall is a spry centenarian whose genteel manner and infectious smile captivate everyone she meets. She has been a resident of Brookdale Piqua (formerly Sterling House) since turning 100 and actively maneuvers a walker down hallways greeting residents and staff by name. Until recently, she enjoyed reading romance novels; macular degeneration and hearing loss, however, have prohibited her from enjoying many interests including reading and bridge.
Born in the home of her grandmother, Katherine Besanceney, in Piqua, Gattshall is a well-known Piqua resident whose brother, Robert May, preceded her in death. She attended the former Spring Street School, was graduated from Piqua Central High School and enrolled at Wooster College, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in education.
“I wanted to be a clothes buyer at Rikes in Dayton,” she confessed. A stylish fashionista, she “loved clothes” and especially enjoyed shopping at the Dayton department store as a youngster. Working as a clerk, she soon discovered, didn’t pay well. A next-door neighbor suggested she enroll at Wooster and for the next four years, this became her home.
It was there she met her husband, Clint Gattshall, to whom she was married for 60 years. “He was a big strapping guy” whom they called “Lefty” Gattshall because the Creston native played on their baseball team. “I liked his appearance and personality,” noted Gattshall, who met him in Spanish class “and tried to help him” with his studies.
The couple got married in 1937 at the former First Westminster Church in Piqua, and spent their first year as newlyweds in Creston, where he was a teacher and coach. Until their marriage, she was hired as a teacher to replace Maggie Clous, who taught the young May girl at Springcreek. Once Clous retired, however, the affable Gattshall taught English, spelling and reading to Piqua children attending Wilder Junior High School.
Gattshall took a hiatus from teaching “because women weren’t allowed to teach once they got married.” Former Piqua Superintendent Cecil M. Sims eventually rescinded the rule. The Gattshalls returned to Piqua, where Clint was hired as a chemistry and science teacher at Piqua High School. He served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Fort Schuyler, N.Y., during World War II. She accompanied him for 1½ years to “enjoy the sights” and watch her husband pitch baseball with the Navy team at Yankee Stadium. He subsequently spent six weeks in Washington, D.C., before serving in the Philippines overseas. Upon his return to Piqua, Clint worked as a sales manager at the George H. Rundle’s Co. until 1969, when he went back to teaching an Occupational Work Experience (OWN) class.
In addition to teaching at Wilder, Gattshall also taught English and spelling at Bennett Junior High School and briefly taught kindergarten. She retired in 1976 after a stellar 26 years in education.
“I always had top (accelerated) classes,” interjected Gattshall. “Because they (students) were so bright, I often gave them extra words to learn such as ‘Mesopotamia’ and ‘Afghanistan.’”
Together, the Gattshalls adopted and raised a daughter, Janet McGraw, of Piqua, who has two sons, Jonathan and Bart, and six grandchildren.
Following her retirement, Gattshall enjoyed playing in eight different bridge clubs and traveling to every state except Alaska, as well as to Europe. She’s been an active member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, former president of the Colombian Club, American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Piqua YWCA.
Reminiscing over the past years, she admitted, “I’ve had an amazing life … everything’s been good.” To celebrate her milestone birthday, she enjoyed a family get-together following church services and a special meal prepared by the Brookdale staff.
A native of Piqua, Elinor (May) Gattshall, celebrated her 105th birthday on Sept. 4. To celebrate, she enjoyed a family get-together following church services and a special meal prepared by the staff at Brookdale Piqua, where she lives.
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at [email protected]