It’s hard to imagine what life must’ve been like in rural western Pennsylvania back in 1922.  But for one resident of the Pepperberry Suites at The Orchards, the memories come to life vividly.

Ethel Ondila was born at her family home in Aliquippa on March 9, 1922, a daughter of the late Annie and John Trombulak.   She was one of seven children whose father was a carpenter and whose mother did everything she could to keep the family afloat during those lean times.  Ethel remembers playing outside with lots of other kids who lived nearby, creating games using tin cans – mostly competing with one another by throwing rocks at a can to see who could earn the most points.  She also recalls stepping on the cans to form “tin shoes” that would make noise as they stomped down the road.  No one had money for bicycles or roller skates or ice skates, she says, but because everyone was “in the same boat” at that time, she never gave it a thought.  She lived a relatively carefree childhood, sticking close to the other kids in the area and attending a four-room schoolhouse.

Following her graduation from Monaca High School, she married Andy Ondila and settled in Independence Township on a 10-acre farm, where they grew Christmas trees.  Ethel can remember selling those first trees for just five dollars each!  Although the couple never had children of their own, they enjoyed having friends come to visit, bringing their families.  Some of Ethel’s happiest memories were of having a “gang” at their house, playing cards or being outside.

Together with Andy, Ethel also enjoyed fishing and camping in Canada.  They also had a big garden, and would preserve mass quantities of fruits and vegetables, which would carry them through the winters.  They also created beautifully carved masterpieces out of logs and tree stumps, which they proudly gifted to their friends.

Andy passed away in 2004, and Ethel lived alone for quite some time.  She gratefully acknowledges the help she received from her dear neighbors, Jeff and Elaine Sweitzer, whom she considers her own family to this day.  An avid seamstress, Ethel kept busy by sewing and making quilts at the Catholic Church, and says her faith got her through those lonely times.  She figures “God isn’t finished with me yet because I’m still livin’ at 101 years old!”

She became a permanent resident of The Orchards at Foxcrest in May of 2022 and has settled right in, making friends with those who share her new home.  When asked what brings her happiness now, she says “eating meals together in the dining room.”  Although she deals with the daily aches and pains that most certainly accompany longevity, she claims she “can’t complain.”

Ethel was treated to a very special surprise for her birthday when Hancock County Commissioners Jeff Davis, Eron Chek and Paul Cowey arrived at Ethel’s home at Pepperberry Suites Assisted Living to honor her with a personal proclamation, and to publicly recognize Ethel and her milestone birthday.  Clearly touched by this gesture, Ethel’s smile widened when Commissioner Davis got on one knee to read the document and to present her with a special plate.  She then finished her big celebration with a piece of birthday cake served to her by Orchards Activities Director Rachel Bragg, and Ethel blew out her candle with ease.