Lessons in Faith, Family and Love . . . 105 Years in the Making
Meet a Local Centenarian, Hannah Cochran
The United States had not yet stepped into the first World War, but tensions with Germany were building. Soon, President Woodrow Wilson would request from Congress a declaration of war. The first radio tuner was invented, followed by the invention of stainless steel to improve gun barrels. The year was 1916. On February 26 of that year, a baby would be born to Daisy and Oddie Griest in the historic town of Mechanicsville, now the Conowingo Road area of Bel Air. Hannah Jeanette Griest was delivered at their home by the local physician, Dr. Hughes. Growing up in their home off Ruffs Mill Road, Hannah recalls a simple life centered on family and faith.
Hannah celebrated her 105th birthday recently, and we had the honor to interview her and hear her story. Having lived in Harford County her entire life, Hannah recalls her loving family. “My father, I dearly, dearly loved. I loved my mother too.” Named after her paternal grandmother, Hannah was only eight when her father was killed in an accident. Oddie lived in Harford County his entire life. A furniture maker by trade, he left behind his wife, three daughters and a son. “My mother always told me he was a wonderful person. He would go to any length to help anyone.” Hannah’s mom later married James Wilson, having three daughters and one son together.
Walking to grammar school daily, Hannah attended Mechanicsville School located off Route 1, six miles north of Bel Air. She attended high school at the Dublin School, enjoying transportation by school bus. Reflecting on her school days, she said, “Kids did crazy things like they are doing now. But, there was more discipline.” Her favorite classes were English and arithmetic. Growing up required completing a lot of chores like washing dishes and ironing clothes. Hannah was the oldest in the family, which placed her in charge of caring for her younger siblings. She enjoyed her role and recalled with smiles, “We took care of one another.” She remembers when the family got their first Philco radio and enjoyed listening to weather reports and popular music at the time. When asked which modern convenience has had the greatest impact on her life, Hannah noted the washing machine, without hesitation. Although she appreciates the Roomba Robot vacuum she got for Christmas this year!
On September 21, 1934, Hannah, then 18, would marry a young man from Sparta, North Carolina. Burley Cochran came to Maryland looking for work during the Great Depression. Burley, who initially worked in the defense industry, would later retire from Goetze’s Meats, located in Baltimore. During a 58 year loving marriage, Burley and Hannah had six children, all of whom would reside in Harford County. Hannah has endured the loss of two of her children, Bobby and Bonnie. Her sons Burley Jr., Ronnie and Michael still reside in Maryland, while her daughter Mary Doris lives in South Carolina.
Hannah has seen a lot of changes occur in Harford County. Appreciating the convenience of stores being close to her home, she still misses the old ACME grocery store on Courtland Street in Bel Air. She also recalls the Ma and Pa Railroads in the county fondly. Hannah has some solid advice for young people today. “The world is sort-of topsy-turvy. It’s going to be hard for them. Get well with the Lord, have faith and be the best you can.” Hannah attributes her longevity to having faith and living a clean life. A faithful parishioner of the Mount Tabor United Methodist Church, Hannah has attended church services there since she was a child. Still in attendance at virtual sermons since the start of the pandemic, her faith is her foundation.
When asked what’s next for her, she is excited to move past quarantining and get the entire family back together. She is also looking forward to getting back to church at Mount Tabor.
She still enjoys cooking, especially her specialty, cream of crab soup. Most importantly, she loves seeing her family and lives with her youngest son, Michael. She has frequent talks with her only surviving sister, Virginia Foor. Virginia is 93 years young and lives one mile from Hannah. Hannah is delighted that her great-great-grandson, Gabe, is working towards his Eagle Scout Award. She quoted the words of her favorite president, John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Hannah still looks to how we can take care of each other in our family and community through faith and love.