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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2017:09:23 18:39:51

Betty Jane Marsh poses with a lighted picture tree family friends Donna and Brian Durkin created to celebrate her 90 years.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Betty Jane Marsh celebrated her 90th birthday at a surprise party Sept. 23, attended by 100 family members and friends. From left, are grandson Ted Marsh, daughter-in-law Mary Marsh, granddaughter Diana Marsh, daughter Lauren Marsh, Betty Jane Marsh, daughter Jo Ann Johnson, granddaughter Bettina Johnson, sister Elaine Harrison and cousin David Frushon. Marsh’s daughter, Jo Ann Johnson, planned the party, with assistance from her sister, Lauren Marsh, and daughter, Bettina Johnson. Donna and Brian Durkin and Richie Kossuth also assisted with the surprise party.

Well, actually she is.

And my wife is totally on board with it.

Betty Jane is Betty Jane Marsh. But I did not know that until Mary Kay and I were invited to her recent 90th birthday party. She’s always been Mrs. Marsh to us.

We see her most Sunday mornings after Mass at St. Joseph Marello Parish. We typically chat with her until her daughter, Lauren, comes to pick her up. Our visits are something we look forward to.

I knew Lauren before I knew Mrs. Marsh and I knew Mrs. Marsh’s son, Rick, before I knew either of them. Rick, who died several years ago way too soon, and I became friends back when I was a sports editor and ran the local touch football league. Rick was the official representative of the Avoca Buffalos.

Mrs. Marsh approached me one Sunday morning and introduced herself and I’ve made it a point to look for her every Sunday since.

The party invitation, which included photos of Mrs. Marsh through the years and little tidbits such as her being born the same year, 1927, that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, came from her other daughter, Jo Ann. It also mentioned “other less significant people born the same year” like Roger Moore, Andy Williams, Gina Lollobrigida and Pope Benedict.

Our connection to Mrs. Marsh underscores a recurring theme in this column of how intertwined are those of us who have spent our entire lives here. Her party underscored that theme even further.

It was one pleasant surprise after another, starting with bumping into our dear friend Maureen (Burke) Leone as soon as we arrived.

We asked each other “What are you doing here?” simultaneously.

Maureen, it turned out, had a better reason than we did. Her mom had introduced Mrs. Marsh to the fellow who would become her husband more than 50 years ago. And get this, Maureen’s mom — the former Helen Hrab, same as my wife’s maiden name, by the way, but no relation — had been dating Edmund Marsh but broke up. She introduced him to Betty Jane Frushon, and, well, you can figure out the rest. Maureen told us they all remained friends and the families often vacationed together.

Maureen was seated with someone she did not know, but we sure did. Bart Bryk and I go back to when he was perhaps 11 or 12 years old. That was 1967. I was dating the big sister of his best friend at the time. To this day, people tend to call him “Barty,” but I like to use his complete name, Bartholomew. Don’t ask me why, but I love saying it.

For as long as I’ve know Bart, however, I had never before met his lovely wife, Linda. Meeting her was a pleasure, as was meeting the fourth person at the table, Jake Berlew.

“The legendary Jake Berlew,” I could not help saying as I shook his hand.

Jake was a “tremendous,” to borrow the adjective fellow Avocan Stan Waleski uses when talking about him, basketball player at Pittston Area in the ’80s, if I’m not mistaken. I question my memory because Jake looks so young. I am certain, however, he was a 1,000-point performer.

Jake is a younger brother of my good friend Robbie Berlew. Both are Los Angeles Rams fans, which explains the grins they are sporting these days. This may seem off topic but was typical of the kinds of revelations going on all over the banquet hall as Mrs. Marsh’s friends found out they were also friends, or at least acquaintances of each other. We were one big family.

Mary Kay and I were invited to sit with this group and gladly obliged. Before long the remaining two seats at the table were occupied by Mike and Mary Lou Gilhooley.

“Related to Jimmy?” I asked Mike as soon as Bart introduced us but I was already pretty sure he was. Turns out, he’s Jimmy’s younger brother.

Jimmy Gilhooley was a member of one of the best basketball teams I covered during my sports writing days. The St. John’s Johnnies advanced to the state finals in Pittsburgh in 1973 with Jimmy playing center. He was only a junior.

The point guard on that team, senior Tom Tracy, later married Mary Beth Gilhooley, Jimmy’s and Mike’s sister. I told you there was a recurring theme here.

I approached Pat Solano, speaking of legends, at one point as he was chatting with Mrs. Marsh’s daughter, Jo Ann.

He lightly stroked her cheek and said to me, “This girl looks exactly like her father. He was a good friend of mine.” I was not surprised.

“Bloom where you’re planted,” an expression attributed to St. Paul, comes to mind at events like this. There are countless blessings associated with staying put.

We see a dear, deceased friend’s face in that of his beautiful daughter.

We see mothers in the smiles of their daughters. Sisters in the laughter of their sisters. Brothers in the mannerisms of their brothers.

Mostly, we see ourselves in the eyes of one another.

We’re one, the people of Greater Pittston. Connected in more ways than we can imagine. And there’s not a thing we can do about it.

Nor would we want to.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at