By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991
Issue: May, 1991
Ardella Conner Spangler was 103 years old when she passed away in 1988. She had lived her entire life in a small area; first in the Floyd County community of Check where she was born, then in Montgomery County after she was married. She was only outside the area once, when she traveled to Virginia Beach to visit a granddaughter in 1969. She didn't think much of the ocean. She said, "the sand moved so much when I tried walking in it, and it got in my shoes. I thought the water in the distance seemed like snow."
Ardella was born into a family of 12 brothers and sisters. Her ancestors were Irish, with her grandfather coming directly from County Cork. She said that he was christened O'Conner but dropped the "O" in the ocean when he came to the United States. He returned to Ireland to hunt a wife a few years later and purchased one on an auction block (indentured). He married the woman and brought her back to the United States as his bride.
Ardella's grandfather and Uncle Daniel Conner were both in the Civil War, even though Ardella didn't remember stories concerning it.
The family also had a black sheep who was somewhat of a celebrity. Edward Spangler worked backstage at Ford's theatre and is said to have held the curtain aside for John Wilkes Booth to get a look at President Lincoln. Edward was sentenced to hard work for life for his part in the conspiracy.
Ardella's school days were few, but she managed to learn to read and write. Her school teacher was Mr. Bill Cropp and she was afraid of him because he was so gruff. Her only book was a borrowed speller. One time she won a spelling bee by spelling hippopotamus and her prize for winning was a large safety pin. Even after Ardella was one hundred years old, she still enjoyed reading her Bible and "romance" paperback books.
There were many changes Ardella lived through in her life. She remembered the first telephone in 1926. It belonged to a neighbor, Mrs. Mary Branch. The first radio was a little square box with a big horn and she added that some people didn't want radios in their homes because they thought the devil himself was inside of them making the sounds. She remembered homemade lye and the soap they made from it. When the first bar of Octagon (laundry) soap was purchased, she said she felt like they were rich! She also remembered having a little apple brandy at home as a child.
Music was a part of her life growing up, as most of her brothers played a variety of instruments. Ardella learned to dance early. In those days neighbors held dances in their homes.
As she grew older, Ardella's hearing grew dim. She joked, though, that sometimes she didn't try very hard to hear. Her memory and wit were still sharp at age 100.
In 1903, Ardella married William Winfield Spangler. She was 19 years old at the time and only had one dress. A year later they moved to Montgomery County to the Ironto community to a place called Friendship Hollow. She was to live there for the next 62 years and raise ten children in that Hollow. She and William built a two-story home in the Hollow which was their only home. It was in the path of Interstate 81 and was torn down in 1967, the year after William died.
Ardella worked hard all her life and her young married years were perhaps the hardest. She worked doing everything and anything that needed doing. She worked the fields, did the housework, raised the children, but she said that building fences was the hardest. She never left the Hollow even to go to church because there were none nearby and transportation was so bad.
At age 100, Ardella's health was still very good. She had only been in the hospital once in her entire life up to that point and it was for a nose bleed. She still had one tooth of her own and her daughter-in-law jokingly referred to it as "her sweet tooth." Ardella's appetite was still healthy too. She loved to eat most any vegetable like beans, onions and cornbread for lunch. For supper she liked milk and bread. For breakfast she liked "coffee-soup" — coffee with cream and sugar with bread crumbled in it.
Her grandson, Jonathan, said she had a cast iron stomach, but he was referring to her snuff habit. She didn't even spit when using snuff! Ardella started using snuff when she was about 20 years old because someone told her it was good for a toothache. She had her favorite brand and her grandson said if he brought the wrong kind, he heard about it for a long time.
When asked in an interview when she reached one hundred, how had she managed to live so long, Ardella replied she stayed healthy by working hard and eating food grown on their farm. Her daughter-in-law, Ethel Spangler commented, "Granny's long life is also due to her being so kind to everyone and always trying to help others." Ardella Conner Spangler was a good example of Mountain Mothers. She will be loved and remembered for a long, long time.