At 100 years old, Mary LaVeta Poole is one of McLean's oldest citizens. Her birthday was spent in McLean, where sheÕs lived almost her entire life. Her presence in the community has had so much impact that this week the McLean Volunteer Fire Department will name an ambulance after her to honor her contributions.
THE MCLEAN that Mary Poole remembers is a far cry from the developed mini-opolis that it is today. She remembers an era when the main method of transportation was a trolley and few cars were seen driving down Old Dominion Drive, the main road in town back then.
ÒOh, there were just a few houses. There was the Old Dominion Railroad. We hopped on the trolley to get to Clarendon,Ó recalls Poole. ÒThere was just a little road with streetcars. ItÕs all right now. I got used to it.Ó
She was born in 1904 in Forestville, known now as Great Falls. She lived there until April 5, 1926 when she was married at the age of 18. It was then that she moved to McLean with her husband where they raised three children.
Entertainment in those days, recalls Mary Poole, was spending time with friends and neighbors Ñ mainly because there wasnÕt much else to do in McLean at the time. ÒMost everybody we knew was in McLean,Ó said Poole. Small pleasures, she said, made a big impact back before the years of television and computers. ÒWe used to have a lot of fun when it snowed. WeÕd all go sledding down the hills. ThatÕs was fun,Ó said Poole.
Ò[THE] ONLY STORE was StormÕs,Ó recalls Poole. StormÕs store was on Old Dominion Drive and Elm Street in the center of town.
Getting to the store wasnÕt the easy task it is today because of the lack of transportation. Walking and bicycling were more prevalent than driving back then.
The Poole household was across the street from Evans Farm Inn. The family remained close to the Evans family throughout the years. As a special birthday treat, Ralph Evans, who sold the property to developers several years ago, called his old friend from England, where he lives for half the year. Also in attendance for the party was Caroline Evans Van Wagner, an old friend from by-gone McLean days.
Mary Poole enjoys the distinction of being the oldest living member of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxillary and the oldest member of St. JohnÕs Episcopal Church.
McLean Fire Chief Clyde Clark said, ÒSheÕs the last remaining charter member of our Ladies Auxillary. That Ladies Auxillary was responsible for the purchase of our very first ambulance.Ó
To put that in perspective, the first ambulance was bought in 1935 and the Ladies Auxillary has not been active in more than 30 years, according to Chief Clark.
ÒMy whole family belongs to the Volunteer Fire Department,Ó said Irvin Poole, MaryÕs son. He has gone on to become the Deputy Fire Chief for the D.C. Fire Department and an Ambassador of Goodwill for Fire/EMS in Washington, D.C.
Mary Poole remembers working hard to support the fire department and the volunteers before the community was as prosperous as it is today. ÒWe had dinners, a big Thanksgiving dinner there [to raise money],Ó said Mary Poole.
ÒEvery year they had a two-week carnival at the Franklin Sherman school. It was a high school too at the time,Ó said Irvin Poole. Even as a student Irvin Poole participated in the fire department. ÒThe older kids, we were all in the department. The high school was in the back of the school and the younger kids were in the front. They told those kids that if they heard the [fire] bell to go run into the classroom quick because the big kids would just run over them to get to the trucks,Ó Irvin Poole recalled.
UNWILLING TO LEAVE her family and her hometown, Mary Poole has spent the last seven years as a resident of Vinson Hall retirement home in McLean. ÒI like it here just fine,Ó said Mary Poole.
ÒShe should, itÕs like a hotel here,Ó Irvin Poole quipped.
As friends and family gathered at the Arlie Burke Pavilion to celebrate her milestone birthday with cake and ice cream, Mary Poole worked hard to remember faces and names. A caregiver who appeared before her in street clothes had to change into his uniform before she could recall who he was. But a gentle nudge from family about who the person before her was brought a bright smile of recognition to Mary PooleÕs creased and knowing face.