CATSKILL — Martha Hartman, 103, is what her daughter Kay describes as “a tough old bird.”
Martha was still living at home in Hunter when she celebrated her 100th birthday. She has had her gall bladder removed, two cancer surgeries and a broken hip. Martha continued driving after the broken hip until the age of 96, when her vision began to fail, Kay Mitchell said.
On Wednesday, the Hartman family received the news that Martha, now a resident at The Pines at Catskill Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, tested positive for COVID-19.
“When this hit I knew that she was just really, really vulnerable because she has a history of breathing difficulties,” Mitchell said. “I just assumed that if she got it, that would be the end. But I wasn’t counting on Martha being Martha.”
Martha has been sick with respiratory issues and pneumonia for about two-and-half weeks, Mitchell said, but seems to be on the mend.
“I am hopeful that she is coming out of it,” Mitchell said.
Martha reported that she felt alright, during a brief phone interview Thursday.
She said that her daughter, Kay, calls her every night.
Mitchell used to visit every day, sometimes twice per day, she said.
“I have not been allowed in there for many weeks” Mitchell said. “Always for dinner I would be there.”
Martha’s sons David and Vern Hartman would often visit her on the weekends, Mitchell said. Martha has six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; another daughter, Polly Ann Jones, who lives in Watertown; and is predeceased by her son Gene.
Longevity runs in Martha’s family; her parents, Bernard and Mayfred Evans, lived into their 90s.
Mitchell has done her best to make sure her mother stays occupied and in good spirits while they are apart.
“I bought her an iPad at 96 so she could play solitaire without losing the cards in the reclining chair,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also downloaded books for her mother onto the device.
In a 2017 interview with The Daily Mail, Martha said she enjoyed reading Westerns and mystery novels.
“I really like Agatha Christie,” she said. “They’re good stories. They make you wonder every time, and you hate to put the book down.”
Staying busy has always been part of her mother’s motto, Mitchell said.
“She always said her goal was to get to be 100 because her oldest relative was her Aunt Beth, who died at 99,” Mitchell said. “She always believed in keeping busy. When she would sit down, she always had a book in her hand to read or a project in her hands to work on.”
In years past, Martha enjoyed crocheting hats for premature infants and making miniature American flags for car antennas, Mitchell said.
In a 2017 interview with The Daily Mail, Martha said the key to longevity was diet and exercise.
“Eat proper food and get exercise,” Hartman advised. “I never ate junk. I wasn’t a drinker. Every time they came out with a food that’s healthy for the body, I kept it in mind and ate it.”
Born on Oct. 26, 1917, Martha originated in the Thousand Islands region, where she lived on her family farm. She moved to Hunter in 1964, where she spent a large portion of her life raising her children and working for the postal service.
Starting out as a clerk and then as the officer in charge at the Lexington Post Office, Martha eventually became the postmaster at the Hunter Post Office, Mitchell said. Martha retired in 1985.
“She was adored by the whole community,” Mitchell said. “The whole village looked out for Martha after she retired. There, people checked every morning to make sure her light was on and she was OK.”
Martha celebrated her 100th birthday with the community at a local pub, Mitchell said.
“We assumed people would come in and out all day, but no, everybody came in and stayed,” she said.
Martha agreed to go into The Pines about two years ago, Mitchell said, adding that it is the same facility Martha went to for rehab after she broke her hip.
“The staff there are really wonderful,” she said. “I appreciate them very, very much.”
The Pines on April 10 had the county’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a nursing home. The patient was hospitalized.
Additional testing at the facility resulted in 17 residents and nine staff members also being confirmed, but these individuals had no symptoms. Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, was unsure if the number of confirmed cases at The Pines had increased since initial testing was performed.
Greene County Public Health has also provided testing at Home Sweet Home, The Eliot at Catskill and the Greene County Dialysis Center, and plans to provide screening at Greene Meadows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center when more tests become available, according to Public Health.
Linger said he was only aware of one death in the county being a nursing-home resident, but he did not know which facility the patient came from.
The county has had five COVID-related deaths to date, all of which were senior citizens with underlying health conditions, according to Public Health.