Attitude drives Juneau woman during her 100 years on Earth

Woman endures moves, epidemic to become business success

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

Anna Renne Hitchcock's death certificate was written in 1919, but she's celebrating her 100th birthday next Wednesday.

Hitchcock, who was born March 29, 1900, is living proof that determination and perseverance can change the course of a person's life.

``Her attitude has always been, `You can do anything that you put your mind to.' That has been her life's driving force and has bled over to her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren,'' said Susan Hitchcock, who brought her grandmother to Juneau five years ago.

Anna Hitchcock, who emigrated with her family to America in 1904, took an extended visit with her family in Budapest in 1919. She contracted the flu as a deadly epidemic swept through Europe that year.

Assuming she would die, a doctor filled out her death certificate and handed it to her employer, who nursed the young seamstress back to health, said her granddaughter.

Once Hitchcock regained her strength, she was determined to return to the United States.

``I didn't want to marry anybody but an American. If I married a European, sooner or later they would have wanted to go back to Europe like we did to visit family - I wanted to be in America,'' said Hitchcock from a cushioned chair at St. Ann's Care Center.

Hitchcock, who grew up without a formal education on a Pennsylvania farm, returned to the states and married an American, nuclear physicist William Hitchcock. She also went on to become a successful businesswomen.

In 1932, after her husband lost everything in the stock market crash, Hitchcock began playing the market.

``I decided if it was possible to lose it fast, it was also possible to make it fast. My husband said I was going to lose my shirt, but I

never did,'' said Hitchcock with a smile.

``It was a lot of fun - up one day, down the next - you would never know,'' she added.

Along with playing the stock market and investing in real estate, Hitchcock used her sewing skills, learned as an apprentice in Europe, to climb the ranks in New York's garment industry.

At a young age, Hitchcock, the mother of two boys, gave stock tips to her employers and managed over 300 factory workers, said her granddaughter.

``Wherever I worked, my ambition was to move up and I always did. I started out as a worker and then was put in charge of things,'' Hitchcock said.

She followed her career to Lowell, Mass., a mill town that is now a national historic site. When World War II broke out, her factory converted from dresses to military outfits.

Hitchcock supervised the production of uniforms, heated flying suits for pilots and, in a secret factory, made parachutes that were used in the Normandy invasion, her granddaughter said.

``We did a lot of war work in those days. We made the orders that came along,'' Hitchcock said.

After the war, Hitchcock continued to juggle several businesses, including a nursing home she owned for more than 10 years.

``She always had more than one job, it was really important for her to make money,'' her granddaughter said. ``Even at 100, she would give her eye teeth to go to work.''

Hitchcock also has a fun-loving nature, said Laurie Gibson, a friend who plays cards with her every week.

``She learned how to ride a bicycle at 70. She just marched into a shop and got on a bike,'' said Gibson, laughing. She claims Hitchcock is an excellent gin rummy player. ``At 100, she just inspires me.''

Of her many accomplishments, Hitchcock puts her successful marriage at the top of the list.

`I used to brag about being with the same man for 60 years,'' said Hitchcock. ``He was a good man, a Harvard graduate. It's been a great life.''

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