NEWTOWN >> Long-time Newtown resident, Irene Fisher celebrated her 100th birthday on April 4. The festivities included a touching video from members of Solebury Friends Meeting, a Zoom video conference with guests signing on to wish her well, and a special, virtual visit from Pennsylvania State Senator, Steve Santarsiero.
Irene grew up a city girl in High Point, North Carolina. As a teenager attending High Point High School, she became a “student of words,” with a strong love for reading. She participated in spelling bees, the debate club, and was editor of the school newspaper. Not settling for “the road more travelled,” she set her mind on a college education and earned a degree from the University of North Carolina in English literature.
She married Ralph Payne in 1944, at the end of World War II. They migrated north following their Quaker connections to Bristol. Her love of the written word and passion for education motivated her to become an English teacher. She taught English for many years at Council Rock High School, eventually becoming head of that department.
Together, Irene and Ralph had three children: Kathryn, Philip, and Karen. In between marriage, career and raising her children, she found the time to cultivate her love for flowers. No longer the city-girl, Irene created endless gardens while Ralph planted orchards and vineyards.
Persevering and passionate, she became an active Quaker in Wrightstown Friends Meeting, Solebury Friends Meeting, and Philadelphia Friends Yearly Mtg. She promoted peace, environmental rebuilding, and accessible education for every person.
Sadly, Ralph passed away in 1956 and Irene raised their three young children as a single, working mother. Irene says, “Those were challenging years.”
She once again found happiness when Jack Fisher, an industrial arts teacher at New Hope-Solebury School, visited Wrightstown Meeting. They married in 1966, and Irene became stepmom to Jack’s daughter, Tina.
With her children grown and heading for distant places, Irene and Jack became avid travelers, camping throughout the West and northwards into Maine and Nova Scotia.
According to Irene, the best thing that has ever happened to her has been creating family. “From Ralph and I came three children, and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. With Jack came all of his family and from Jack and I came our extended family.”
The extended family Irene refers to is a family from Vietnam that she and Jack hosted in their home. “We hosted them to America; opened our house to them and for ten years they lived with us, our Vietnamese family! And my American and Jamaican family; my great joys, my great years.”
In 1998, Jack and Irene moved to Friends Village, a community for older adults in Newtown. Here, Irene met her enduring companion and loving friend of the last twenty-three years, Ruth Samsel. Her friends and neighbors there helped her through Jack’s passing in 1999.
The will and spirit that saw Irene through her most challenging times has continued to serve her well, as in 2015, at the age of 95, Irene survived open heart surgery.
Her sustaining hobby has always been reading, collecting books, and of course, her garden. Today her apartment is filled with flowers and books.
Said Irene, “I am surrounded by my books, my plants, my friends, and so very often my family. Many of you are far away, and to all of you I send these words; learn to love the growth in everyone and remember the wisdom of staying close to nature.”
When asked how she feels about turning 100, Irene says, “I recommend it.”