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A Centennial Celebration: Longtime local educator Jayne Brady turns 100 on Monday

Jayne Brady
Jayne Brady

MARQUETTE — Jayne Brady grew up during the Great Depression, but an upbringing on her father’s lumber camp insulated her and her family from the economic downturn, meaning that rather than standing in bread lines or traveling elsewhere to seek work, her days were filled with toothpick poker tournaments and visits to the cook camp for tasty treats.

Born on March 1, 1921, Brady, an Upper Peninsula native and longtime educator, turns “100 years young” on Monday.

Brady was born at a hospital in now-defunct Stambaugh, a city roughly two miles south of Iron River. The cities of Stambaugh and Iron River consolidated on July 1, 2000, but Stambaugh Township still exists today.

Brady’s parents were prepared to welcome their new daughter to the world in February 1921, but Brady herself wasn’t quite ready.

“There was no hospital right in Iron River,” she said. “I was supposed to be born in the middle of February, so my dad packed my mother up and took her to the hospital in the middle of February, and there she sat until March 1, when I was born.”

Brady’s childhood differed significantly from that of the average child, as she grew up on her father’s lumber camp in Gibbs City, 12 miles north of Iron River. The men who worked at the camp treated Brady as “one of the guys,” including her in their nightly card games that were played for toothpicks.

“I learned to play poker at 6 years old because we had no TV or radio,” Brady said. “The men always played poker and taught me, and I was pretty good. We didn’t play for money, we played for toothpicks. I always made little houses out of them or little animals, and I was pretty good at winning a lot of toothpicks. Nobody had much money in those days, we didn’t need it really.”

The Great Depression, considered to be the most severe economic downturn of the 20th century, began in 1929 with the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange and ended in the early 1940s with the beginning of World War II. Millions of Americans and people across the globe suffered from poverty and unemployment over the next decade or so.

Brady was 8 years old at the time of the stock market collapse, and to a child her age, the devastating effects that the economic depression stamped on the world would not be realized until later on in life. To Brady and all of her lumberjack pals, living and working at her father’s camp was a luxury during a period of economic despair.

“We lived through the Depression and it was no depression for us at all,” she said. “Living at dad’s lumber camp, he had a great big vegetable garden with all kinds of good stuff. The men had a brook trout stream running through the back yard. They would shoot a deer every now and then and the game warden never arrested them.

“We had a little camp and the men had a big sleeping camp where they played cards and stuff each night. We also had a cook camp. Every morning us little kids would go to the cook camp and the cook would give us nice, big, thick molasses or sugar cookies. We were treated like queens and princesses. We didn’t know how lucky we were.”

Brady attended school at a one-room schoolhouse, which invovled somewhat of a trek.

“It was a great one-room schoolhouse,” she said. “We had to walk three miles through the woods every morning to learn in the schoolhouse where we would read, write and do arithmetic.”

Making that journey was well worth it for someone like Brady, who had a passion for education. She would go on to have three majors in college and spend over 25 years teaching in schools across the state.

“I graduated from Northern (Michigan University) and also took classes at Michigan State (University) and got my master’s degree,” she said. “I never got my doctorate degree, I took a few more courses after my master’s and that’s about as far as I got. I had three majors which were English, art and home economics. I ended up teaching English and home economics in several schools, and I stuck with home economics because it paid $200 more per year than the others.”

Brady taught in schools across the state, including schools in downstate Sturgis, which is near the Indiana border. Locally, she spent time teaching at the Graveraet School, Bothwell Middle School, Marquette Senior High School and NMU.

“I taught at many schools in the state of Michigan,” she said. “In both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. I came back to Marquette as a home agent for the (Marquette County) extension for a while and then taught at NMU for eight or nine years.”

When asked if she still keeps in touch with any of her former students, she had a suprising reply.

“I did until about five or 10 years ago,” she said. “I outlived them all. They all died before I did, in their late eighties or nineties. So no, I don’t keep in touch with students anymore and I miss it. We always had good correspondence and visits.”

Brady has seen many things change over the years, including major advancements in technology.

Many of the things we take for granted today weren’t available when she was growing up.

“It was interesting when we finally got television,” she said. “I still have trouble working it sometimes. I liked the things where you could turn a knob on and off. There have been a lot of great inventions. I remember when radio was invented and how excited everybody was. My dad would say “Come in, they’re playing organ music on the radio!” They would listen through all of the static. It’s fun to think back about those days.”

Brady shared two fond memories of her father as well.

“I can still remember when I had the measles and I was in my room by myself,” she said. “It was midnight and I would tiptoe through the dark kitchen with the kerosene lamp turned low and stand by my mother’s bed where my other two sisters were sleeping. I’d stand and cry and when nobody woke up I’d tiptoe back, my dad in the back bedroom would hear me crying and say ‘Come on Jayne, you can sleep on the other side of my bed.’ I said: ‘But daddy, you might get the measles,’ and he said ‘I’ll take my chances.’ He slept on one side, I slept on the other, and he didn’t get the measles, but my sisters did.

“We didn’t have running water, but we did have a well where we could lower a bucket and get water for washing dishes to take back every Saturday night. Once every six months or so, my dad would climb to the bottom of the well and rescue combs, handkerchiefs and sometimes money that would fall from people bending down to get water.”

Brady now resides at Brookridge Heights in Marquette. Due to the pandemic, they couldn’t hold a traditional celebration for her 100th birthday.

While Brady told The Mining Journal that she doesn’t deserve any special recognition, her family wants to make her feel special any way they can.

“We just want to say happy birthday to a wonderful mother,” said Betty Brunelle, one of Brady’s four daughters.

Brady admits that she doesn’t know how much longer she has left on Earth, but said it’s best to simply appreciate the time she has had.

“I’m ready to go to the other side,” she said. “I guess I’ve been eating too much oatmeal and too many vegetables and that’s just the way it goes. You don’t choose when you’re going to be born and you don’t choose when you’re going to die, so you just take it and smile.”

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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