The secret to old age is to live
95-year-old tells of favorite things in life
BURNHAM — “Don’t ask me what the secret to old age is because I don’t know. You don’t do anything special, you just live,” laughed Marjorie Brandt, who celebrated her 95th birthday a few days earlier.
One of the things Brandt has been taking delight in since she was a little girl is her love for dolls.
“I’ve always loved dolls. I always tell everybody I was born with a doll in each hand,” Brandt said. “I started seriously collecting when I was about 3.”
Brandt took her fondness of dolls into adulthood when she began costuming dolls and creating detailed, period-specific dresses.
“One uses antique fabrics and antique styles of fashion when one costumes and antique doll,” Brandt said.
However, not all the dolls Brandt would make costumes for were antique. Some of her dolls were modern artist doll that she would dress in clothing made with antique fabric. Brandt would follow the old fashion prints in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a American women’s magazine that was published in Philadelphia from 1830 to 1878.
“You try to do the outfit, the dress, the fashion exactly how as the fashion would have been,” Brandt said.
Brandt said as she grew older she grew more serious about dolls. So much so she became a doll dealer and a member of the United Federation of Doll Clubs since the 1950s.
“I have done doll shows all over the United States,” Brandt said. “From San Francisco to Bridgeport Connecticut, to New Orleans to Florida and have had marvelous adventures everywhere.”
Brandt was even a judge for the UFDC’s national competition every year from the late 1950s all the way into the 1980s. Brandt said the dolls are judged in different categories based on the material from which they are made such as china, bisque, wood, cloth and paper mache.
“We think Barbie is brand new and wonderful with all her clothes. Well, back in the 19th century French fashion dolls had just as many wonderful clothes as the modern Barbie does today,” Brandt said. “They had diamond rings and everything.”
Brandt said she was always interested in antique dolls, but because of her health and needing to free up space in her home, sent her collection to auction a few years back.
“And then of course I have dabbled into a good many things,” Brandt said of her life. “I do an awful lot of craftwork.”
Brandt creates finely detailed miniature needlepoint rugs for doll houses. She said there are many meshes in needlepoint and take many kinds and sizes of threads. For the miniature rug she is currently working on Brandt said she is using the smallest size thread available.
“My husband used to always say ‘Why don’tcha make a rug for the room?’ Ha!,” Brandt laughed.
Brandt said she went into collecting miniature toys and miniature doll houses but eventually sold that collection as well. Brandt said she has been very crafty in her lifetime. She made traditional old Irish knit sweaters for her family, about 10 in all.
Born in State College, Brandt attended State College High School. After high school Brandt went on to attend Penn State University where she graduated in 1946 with an art degree.
“I went to college during the war (World War II) which was very interesting.” Eventually, she returned to Penn State to earn a graduate degree in related arts. Brandt was a substitute art teacher at Chief Logan High School for many years.
Brandt moved to Burnham with her parents when she was 13 years old and lives in that same house to this day. Not much changed about her childhood home, including the visits from small winged mammals.
“The butterfly net serves a purpose,” Brandt said, “I get bats!”
Brandt said she remembers her father chasing bats with a broom when she was younger. She recalls one time when her father was standing on a bed chasing a bat with a broom when the slats broke.
“My father went down amidst all the bed slats and the bed clothes and everything else trying to swat a bat,” Brandt said, “So I tell all my neighbors ‘If you see me running around in the middle of the night in my nightgown with a butterfly net, I’m catching bats!’ Haha!”
Brandt said one time she was bit by a bat and had to go through “the tetanus shots and all that baloney.”
When she was younger, Brandt along with her daughters formed a group called the Brandt Family Singers. The group performed in the area at churches and the arts festival. Brandt said she performed at different Lions Club, Rotary Club and Elks Club shows as a soloist. Brandt has also sung in local choruses as well as “The Magical Singers,” a group organized by former Chief Logan High School music director James Dulis. When the group performed at magical dinners they did so in Renaissance or medieval costumes.
“It was a lot of fun,” Brandt said. “We rented the costumes for each performance and the men had to wear tights. Well, they had o idea how to wear them. It was funny to see.”
Brandt said she had her own troubles with her costume. She recalls having to wear a tall pointed hat with a long veil. When the group would stand up to sing she would often snag the veil as she sat back down almost pulling the hat off her head.
Brandt said one time while visiting New York City, her and her family were in the lower lobby of the Hilton Hotel when they were saying good-bye to Brandt’s grandson.
“All of the sudden the three of us broke out into song at the same time,” Brandt recalls, “It was unplanned.”
The three sang “So Long, Farewell” from the film “The Sound of Music.” When they finished Brandt said the bellhops all applauded.
“One of the bellhops came over to us and said ‘I always wondered what happened to the von Trapp sisters’ which we thought was funny,” Brandt said.
Perhaps Marjorie Brandt does know the key to staying young without even realizing it. She spent a lifetime of doing the things she loves and enjoying each moment along the way.