Century Club: Double celebration marks milestones for Grace "Betty" Perry and Bernie Queneau
July 17, 2012 4:00 AM
Grace Elizabeth Perry
Grace "Betty" Perry and Bernie Queneau were born on the same day, July 14, 1912, and they celebrated together Saturday at St. Clair Country Club. But their lives have been so different, and fascinating, that each deserves the spotlight. Ladies, first:
In Bedford, Pa., Grace Elizabeth Brumbaugh was the oldest of three children born to Simon Brumbaugh, a physician from Windber, and the former Ida Ream of Johnstown. During high school in Windber, she developed an interest in theater.
After graduating at age 17, she traveled with the John B. Rogers Company of Fostoria, Ohio, putting on musicals in towns up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest. In just two weeks, she would teach adults and children their lines, songs and dance routines. Costumes, scenery and lighting were shipped in from New York City for the final productions.
After 11 months of living out a suitcase, she decided she would like to be a nurse and enrolled in the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia. Sam Perry, a young intern, invited her on a date and they fell in love. They eloped on Nov. 30, 1934, marrying in a Presbyterian church in Philadelphia with the church's maid and sexton as witnesses. They sent telegrams the next day to their parents. Since hunting season had just opened, she wrote: "I got my dear, I hope you got yours!"
They had four children: Ann Perry Mayberry of McMurray, Susan Perry Farmer of Del Mar, Calif., Samuel Perry III (deceased) and James Perry of Santa Barbara, Calif. Dr. Perry joined his father and brother in a medical practice in New Castle. When World War II was declared in 1941, he enlisted in the Navy as a doctor, and he was sent to New Guinea in 1943.
After the war, he opened a practice specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in New Castle. Mrs. Perry was a board member for the United Way and YMCA and volunteered with the American Field Service. When the children were older, she enrolled in Westminster College in New Wilmington, taking courses in French, Shakespeare, comparative religions, English literature and other liberal arts courses. She also took flying lessons. She became a devotee of yoga and Unity and continues to practice Unity teachings today.
Dr. Perry died in 1984, and she moved to Friendship Village in Upper St. Clair in 1998. She keeps in touch with family and friends on her computer and has a Facebook page. For her birthday party Saturday, relatives and friends came from as far away as Switzerland and California. She has 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, who, she says, "spoil me with attention."
Bernard Russell Queneau of Mt. Lebanon was born in Liege, Belgium. His father, an engineer, joined the French Army when World War I started in 1914. Belgium was a neutral country, and he thought his family would be safe there. His son has a fragment from a German shell that landed in the basement where his family was hiding during an attack. Mrs. Queneau spoke German and convinced a German commandant to let her family depart for England.
As a boy, Mr. Queneau lived in England, Scotland and France. He attended Belmont School in London for one year. As an "Old Belmontian," he was given the honor in 2006 of planting a new Cedar of Lebanon tree.
In 1925, the family moved to Minneapolis, where his mother had grown up, and the next year, to New Rochelle, N.Y.
In March 1928, Mr. Queneau earned the Boy Scouts' Eagle Scout Award and won a cross-country trip on the Lincoln Highway. He had never been west of Minneapolis. He and three other Scouts rode on benches in an REO Speedwagon truck made to look like a Conestoga wagon. They put on demonstrations in highway safety, first aid, water safety and other activities in towns along the way, including Pittsburgh, where they appeared in front of the Omni Penn Hotel.
Mr. Queneau received bachelor's and master's degrees from Columbia University and a doctorate in metallurgy from the University of Minnesota. He was an assistant professor in metallurgy at Columbia and joined the Navy Reserves in 1939. During World War II, he was stationed at the Navy proving grounds in Dahlgren, Va.
In 1941, he married Henrietta Nye of Minneapolis and they had three daughters: Jean Davis of North Haven, Conn., Anne Queneau of Washington, D.C., and Margot Marsh of Tacoma, Wash.
He joined U.S. Steel in 1946, working first as a chief development metallurgist in Chicago. In 1951, he became chief metallurgist at the Duquesne Works. He had the same title in Birmingham, Ala., from 1957 to 1964, when he moved back to Pittsburgh to become head of quality control for heavy products. In 1970, he was made general manager for quality assurance.
His wife died in 1970 and in 1974, Mr. Queneau married Mary Goettge. He retired in 1977 and became a consulting engineer and technical editor of Iron and Steel magazine. In 1987, he retired at the age of 75.
In 1997, Mr. Queneau received a phone call from Esther McNaull Oyster, president of the Lincoln Highway Association. Wondering if any of the four Eagle Scouts who had traveled the highway in 1928 were still alive, she had found him in the phone book. She asked him to be a banquet speaker for the association's conference in Mansfield, Ohio, and he accepted.
They met again at a conference in 2002 in Sacramento, Calif. Mr. Queneau, whose second wife had died in 1999, had been invited to dedicate a plaque at the end of the highway in San Francisco. Since Ms. Oyster knew him, she was assigned to be his escort. They were married in 2003 and attended the next conference together. Their wedding trip covered the entire highway from coast to coast, 75 years after Mr. Queneau traveled it as an Eagle Scout.
He has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He has volunteered for 20 years with Meals on Wheels, 15 years as escort at St. Clair Hospital and is in his fourth year at Mt. Lebanon Library's used book store. Mr. Queneau loves to read, especially history, World War II and biographies, and he has traveled extensively since retirement. Recently, he went to Tahiti and the French Polynesian Islands.
He is a gourmet cook, specializing in flambe dishes and soups, and an excellent bridge player. Mr. Queneau has never smoked and never gets a headache, cold, flu or upset stomach. Asked what he attributes his long life to, he replies: "Blondes."