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‘I Could Do a Great Jitterbug’

‘I Could Do a Great Jitterbug’

By Karen Knight

Dorothy Deegan celebrated her 100th birthday with family on June 6. From top, grandchildren Chase and Alexa, son Doug and daughter-in-law Melanie.
Dorothy Deegan celebrated her 100th birthday with family on June 6. From top, grandchildren Chase and Alexa, son Doug and daughter-in-law Melanie.

Stone Harbor centenarian recalls the highlights of a rich life

STONE HARBOR – “Can you believe it?” asked a spry Dorothy Deegan, of Stone Harbor, on turning 100 years old June 6. “I can’t.”

“I don’t know what the secret is to living this long,” she said, chuckling, adding she’s not a drinker and only has a “glass of champagne with strawberries for special events, maybe once or twice a year.”

Dorothy Deegan at 17 when she graduated from high school and today, having turned 100 years old June 6.

While she had a “rough” winter with some hospitalizations, which slowed her down a little, Deegan’s face lit up recently as she recalled many highlights over her lifetime: Growing up in Philadelphia, she worked in a “man’s” job before the women’s liberation movement emerged in the late 1960s and was paid a “man’s wage”; she danced with World War II soldiers at USO dances; she loved going to the beaches in North Wildwood and Stone Harbor with her husband and son.

“I never thought I’d be here,” she said, reflecting on her century of life. She had a brother, who was 5 years older, and a sister, who was 7 years younger, whom she didn’t expect to outlive.

“I always said if I had a choice if it was my brain or my knees that would be a problem, I’d take my knees. Everything up here still works!” she said, pointing to her brain.

Her knees have worn out, so Deegan relies on her son, Doug, and daughter-in-law, Melanie, to get back and forth to medical appointments, take her for rides and provide company.

They live in a house that Deegan bought with her husband in 1957, which was on sale for $15,000. “My dad had come down to the Shore and saw this house and told me and Joe, my husband, that we needed to come and look at it. We did, and my dad said we should offer them $14,500 because it didn’t have a refrigerator,” she recalled.

Zillow now estimates the house as worth $1,095,500.

They enjoyed their summer home, as Deegan loved the beach, and the couple liked to spend evenings there. Unfortunately, Deegan’s husband died at a young 57 years of age, and she needed to sell either their home in Springfield, Pennsylvania, or the one in Stone Harbor.

Their son Doug was a surfer and asked that they keep the Shore home, and so they did. Today, she lives with them and describes Melanie “as the daughter I never had; she’s great.”

Purple is Dorothy Deegan’s favorite color. She enjoys getting her hair done every six weeks and seeing family and friends. Photo Credit: Karen Knight

The family had a big birthday bash last year when Deegan turned 99, and she thought that was her “big party.” This year, she celebrated with family at her favorite restaurant, Ristorante Luciano, followed by an open house for friends and family the following day. She has three grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Deegan recalled that upon graduation from high school in Philadelphia, her dad told her she had to go to work. “My first job was actually a man’s job because of the war,” she said about her post at the Morris Music Co., where she boxed sheets of music to be shipped out. “I was even paid $18 a week, which was the man’s salary. Girls were paid $11 a week at the time. I gave my mom $5 a week to help contribute to the household.”

Because of the war, the company folded, and Deegan found herself working at Pennsylvania Railroad, where she was taught how to keypunch. She remembers she had to take an elevator to the sixth floor, get off and then take another elevator up to the 11th floor. “I was so shy that I would walk up those last five floors rather than take the elevator with everyone,” she said.

While the war provided women with employment opportunities, they also provided Deegan with an opportunity to dance at USO clubs with the soldiers, she said.

“I could do a great jitterbug,” she said. “I loved dancing with the soldiers. I remember they would ration sugar, and I would use my rations to make pounds of fudge to give to the boys.”

She met her husband at a wedding, recalling, “I liked tall guys, and this guy, who was 6-feet-3-inches tall, walked in, and I thought, wow, who is that? He was dressed all in tan, wearing a plaid jacket, striped shirt and polka-dotted tie. We dated for three years, but he was Catholic and I was Protestant, and I didn’t really think it was going to go anywhere because of our different religions. I was going to break up with him because I didn’t think either of us would change.

“But one day he asked me what would I say if he said something that would shock me, surprise me and please me. Then he told me he would marry me in my church. I told him I would say yes,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. They had a small wedding with a small cake, and she remembered that she scrubbed her kitchen floor that morning.

They were married for nine years before she had their son, what she calls one of her greatest accomplishments. “My friend had a dream that I would have a big baby boy, and I did,” she said. “Doug was nine pounds when he was born.”

Upon moving to the area full time in the mid-1980s, Deegan worked for a doctor in Stone Harbor, keeping that position until she was 89 years old, which was also when she gave up driving.

“She’s part of the Greatest Generation,” her daughter-in-law Melanie said. “She has a great sense of humor and just rolls with the punches.”

“She’s got it going on,” her son, Doug, added.

Contact the reporter, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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