By JANET HEIM
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — With Catherine “Katie” Stevens’ 99th birthday behind her, the calendar is closing in on her centennial birthday.
March 13 marked the last birthday Stevens’s age could be counted in double digits. She said she received many floral arrangements, more than 50 cards and was still scheduling lunch dates to celebrate with friends.
Stevens still lives independently, occasionally drives, flies annually to visit her granddaughter in Florida and plays the organ at her church, Washington Square United Methodist in Hagerstown.
She started playing the organ at the church in 1951, after she and her husband, Herbert Stevens, moved to Hagerstown.
He had lost his job at Celanese in Cumberland, Md., and they came here when he got a job doing bookbinding at the prison. They were married for 56 years before his death in 1993.
Catherine was born and raised in Midland, Md. She learned to play piano at the Catholic school in Midland, then continued at Frostburg State Teachers College.
When her husband was in the service, Stevens said she “fooled around playing clubs.” She said she could play popular music, but decided “it wasn’t my thing.”
Upon moving to Hagerstown, Stevens took organ lessons from Asher Edelman so she could play Washington Square’s Moller pipe organ.
Her initial “gig” at the church ran until 1983, when she stepped down to care for her ill husband.
The Stevenses were renters because Herbert always wanted to go back to Cumberland. They have one daughter, one granddaughter and one great-grandson.
Catherine subsequently worked as a substitute organist for local churches. When Washington Square United Methodist needed an organist in 2000, Stevens was asked to consider taking the position and she’s been playing ever since.
“I never dreamed I’d still be playing organ,” Stevens said.
One summer, she even played for sister parish St. Matthew’s on West Franklin Street, but found it to be too rushed getting back in time to play for the preservice choir practice at Washington Square.
Stevens’ birthday month usually coincides with Lent, which means extra services and preparing for Easter.
“This month’s been rough,” she said in March.
Catherine said she spends two to three days a week, usually in 90-minute increments, practicing on the church organ. She keeps her music library at home, where she selects her music.
“She’s extremely talented and well-schooled in organ,” said Pastor Jerry Lowans. “It’s very difficult to find someone who can play a pipe organ. She’s quite an asset to the church.”
Lowans said playing organ for the church keeps Stevens going and that she’s very active.
“The big joke around here is we want to get her on the Smuckers jar,” said Lowans, referring to Willard Scott’s recognition of centenarians on “The Today Show.”
Stevens also plays for Eastern Star Hagerstown Chapter 89, of which she is a member.
“I said `This is it. I’ll play one more year,”‘ Stevens said. “They said `Oh, you have to play until you’re 100.”‘
Longevity runs in some branches of the family tree. Stevens’ mother lived to be 92, her father lived into his 80s and she had a grandmother who lived into her 90s.
“People ask me the secret to a long life. I don’t drink, don’t smoke and I tell jokes. And I’m a hugger,” she said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)