R-C’s featured senior citizen: Her game isn’t up yet
Mary Jane Harding is a woman on the go, and just because her birth date says that she is a senior, she has no intentions of slowing down.
Harding grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif., where her father was a mechanic with a special passion for Ford and Mercury cars. Apparently this passion must have been genetic, because Harding shares her father’s love for the big powerful automobiles.
“I bought my 1939 Mercury in 1974, and my dad helped me with it,” said Harding. “I still have it. Of all the cars that I own, that is my pride and joy.”
But don’t think that Harding spent her youth under the hood of cars. She is a lifetime member of Dancers of the Pacific, an all-ages group that learned the authentic Hawaiian, Tahitian and Samoan dances and culture.
“I took lessons, my mother took lessons and my son took lessons. Even my grandson,” said Harding. “Every year, we gave a three-day performance. Mrs. Bronson, the teacher, even flew ti leaves in from Hawaii to make sure it was authentic.”
While still in school, Harding found a job as a junior trainee with the Walnut Creek Parks and Recreation Department. She worked her way up to a playground aide and continued working her way up the ladder until she retired after 30 years with parks and recreation as a recreation technician.
“I was 12 when I did a survey for the recreation department to see if there was enough interest for a senior center. By 14, I was the secretary to Mrs. Wallis, who was the first woman director of recreation in the state of California. Mrs. Wallis told me to take typing in high school. I did. I was very terrified of this woman, but when she retired, we were on a first name basis,” said Harding.
Harding’s interest in the Carson Valley started when she was just a child. For vacations, her family would often come to the area and camp while her father volunteered his expertise to the Harrah’s Automobile Museum. Harding’s love for old cars continued to grow. This is her 11th year as a director of the southwest region of the Early Ford V-8 Club of America, and she is a life member of the Early Ford V-8 Foundation.
“The V-8 club is a worldwide organization with over 9,000 members,” said Harding. “Through the club, I now have friends in foreign countries and all over the United States. I helped make the break for women in the club, but I’m going to retire. It’s time.”
Harding moved to the Ruhenstroth area in 1991 with her husband, Peter. Until they discussed places to retire, Harding didn’t know that he was as familiar with the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe as she was.
“It was funny, we started talking, and Peter said he knew just where he wanted to move,” said Harding. “I was all set to sell him on the Carson Valley when he beat me to the line.”
Although technically they are retired, Harding and her husband are busier than ever.
“Pete is 70-plus years young, and he is a ski coach at Heavenly. That’s just a fancy name for an instructor,” said Harding.
When her 13-year-old grandson, Gene, isn’t visiting, Harding keeps busy with volunteer work. She is the secretary for the Young at Heart Senior Citizens Club, a position she has held for two years. Prior to that she was in charge of publicity. She is also a member of Valley Cruisers, holding the offices of president for three years and vice president for a year.
“Valley Cruisers is more than a bunch of people driving around in their cars,” said Harding. “We are a service club. We donate time to the auto museum, we raise money for charitable causes, and we helped with the restoration of the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center. We sanded and stripped and bleached and varnished the railings and bookcases. Everyone had a blast. It was good to pitch in to help.”
Harding also volunteers at the senior center through RSVP.
“I’ve always been a volunteer, but I just got old enough to be in RVSP,” said Harding. “In Walnut Creek, I was also an advisor for Camp Fire Girls. My niece was a member and I helped them with badges for camping, office and crafts for six years.”
After two years of watercolor classes through the senior center, Harding is pleased with her creative talents.
“It’s fun. It’s relaxing. I just pity the poor man in our class,” said Harding. “The women are no holds barred. He gets a real sex education.”
Harding also enjoys needlepoint and crewel. She is an avid reader and recently discovered the author Jack Higgins. She is also an inveterate collector.
Her home is a treasure trove of Teddy bears and other mementos.
“There is no such thing as junk,” said Harding. “Everything is important to me. It all tells a story.”
It would be impossible to count the number of Teddy bears that Harding has accumulated.
“I have no idea how many there are,” said Harding. “It’s like that song – you don’t count your money until the game is over. I’m not ready to count. My game is far from over.”