The View from 99: Marcie Sowa

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2016 18:58

Marcie Sowa

Marcie Sowa turns 99 in January, and for more than half her life – 50 years in fact – she has been the woman who pushes the doorbell or picks up the phone to say, “Avon calling.”

“When my daughter Ginger was 19,” Marcie explains, “she wanted a part-time job and ordered a little Avon sales kit.”

Ginger quickly discovered she wasn’t a salesperson, but Marcie couldn’t bear to throw the samples away, so she went door-to-door and sold them. That was 1966, and a half century later she’s still at it.

The second youngest of six daughters, Marcie was raised in Minneapolis by parents who immigrated from Poland as children. Her father was a handyman who hung wallpaper and painted streetcars and churches. Marcie remembers him as a hard worker in a time when there weren’t many jobs.

“We didn’t have a lot to eat,” she recalls, and then adds with a smile, “During the Depression he did sell a little moonshine that he made in our basement.”

In high school, she loved drama and acted in plays. After graduating in 1936, Marcie studied home economics at the University of Minnesota. She left college to work, but at a dance soon met the man she would marry.

Stan Sowa was an ace left-handed pitcher on the university’s baseball team. While it wasn’t love at first sight, Marcie recalls, “I thought he was very handsome.”

Two years her senior, Stan played minor league baseball with the Minnesota Millers and later did spring training in Florida with the Philadelphia Athletics and legendary manager Connie Mack.

After college, he joined the Army Air Corps, becoming a navigator on C-47s. He proposed on Valentine’s Day in 1942. A short time later, while stationed at Hondo Army Airfield in Texas, Stan looked down from a training flight and saw a mission building.

“Right then he knew that was the place he wanted to get married,” Marcie says. “They landed and he found out it was Mission San Jose in San Antonio.”

Marcie enjoying time with daughter Trisha

The two were married there in November 1942, and like so many other couples, had their photo taken in front of the mission’s famous Rose Window.

Stan spent the remainder of World War II transporting troops and supplies in the U.S., Africa and Europe. As the war ended, Marcie gave birth to their first child, Carolyn. Stan remained in the service, and over the next 12 years, the couple welcomed four more daughters and a son.

Stan retired from the Air Force in 1963. He sold insurance and real estate briefly in Butte County, then moved the family to Livermore and began working at the Tracy Defense Depot as a supervisor and instructor.

A passion for both golf and the mountains led the Sowas to Pine Mountain Lake when Stan retired in the late 1970s. Both Stan and Marcie played often until his sudden death from a stroke in 1990 at age 73.

After Stan’s death, Marcie joined the Groveland Kiwanis Club as a charter member and was active in the group for many years. On her 98th birthday, the organization presented her with a Distinguished Service Award for her long involvement.

“Marcie was a very busy member, always volunteering, always a part of every project,” recalls Al Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Groveland club. “She helped organize our club’s annual Children’s Shopping Spree. In early fall she and the other members would take Groveland students shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies.”

Marcie has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her family has always been her greatest joy, but amid that joy has come great sorrow. Marcie has outlived three of her children.

Her only son, Greg, died of polio at age 2. Fifth daughter and youngest child Marilouise was only 18 when she was killed in a vehicle accident. And in 2005, Sharon passed away at 54 from a leg infection.

How does someone endure the loss of three children? “I prayed and asked Jesus to help me, to help me accept it,” Marcie says haltingly. “But it was very hard … It is still hard.”

Her Catholic faith has long been a source of comfort. “Mom prays the Rosary all day long,” says youngest daughter Trisha. “She’s often asked to pray for others and loves doing it.”

Meeting Pope John Paul II, 1982

A member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sonora, Marcie still attends Mass when she can, but when she can’t someone from the church serves communion to her at home.

Her secret to longevity? “Certainly not exercise,” she says emphatically.

“I just live every day to be with my family,” says Marcie. “My family has always meant a lot to me.

I wanted to be here with them.” Then she adds, “I was always hoping I’d live to be 100.”

Longevity runs in her family. Her oldest sister, Louise, lived to 100, and their aunt lived to 108.

Asked who was the greatest person of the last century, Marcie doesn’t hesitate: “Pope John Paul II,” she says.

Meeting the Pope at the Vatican on a 1982 pilgrimage to Italy with Trisha “was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

As is expected of a near-centenarian, Marcie has a few health concerns. “My hearing is bad, my eyesight is bad, and I walk poorly,” she says. A serious fall 10 years ago convinced her to live with Trisha’s family in Sonora.

So how does she remain an Avon lady at 98? Five decades of experience helps.

“We had just moved to Livermore when I began, and I needed to get out and meet people,” explains Marcie, always neatly dressed and well-coiffed.

“It was a social thing then and it still is. In those days, I did a lot of walking in the neighborhood. Today I do most of it by phone.”

She still has about a dozen regular customers, and always leaves catalogues when she goes to the doctor and hairdresser. She has seen many changes in the company and its beauty line over the years.

Looking at treasured family photos

“At the beginning it was lipstick and eye makeup,” she recalls. “Then we began to sell face makeup and moisturizers, just a huge variety of moisturizers.”

Marcie has kept in touch with countless friends she’s made through Avon and through her service work and military friends.

“Mom writes to so many people,” says Trisha. “She’ll send cards when they’re sick and sympathy cards when one of her friends passes away. Then she stays in touch with the families.”

“Look at this,” Marcie says, indicating a pile of letters that awaits her attention. “I’m a busy woman. That’s what keeps me going. I have so much to do.”

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2016 18:58
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