When the Voice of Muscatine received a call from a reader that one of the residents at Lutheran Living would be celebrating their 104th birthday we knew we had to cover the story. What we didn’t know is how interesting Maria Schacht’s (pronounced Shot) story would be. Maria was born in Adgem Belgium, on February 11th 1912.
Maria, celebrated her 104th birthday last Thursday. Prior to coming to the Midwest in the United States, she survived immense turmoil in her homeland of Belgium. In July of 1914 Germany invaded Belgium’s borders.Maria, whose maiden name is Maria Merci, and her brother Andre were forced from their home and her parents had to flee as well. She and her brother went to live in her uncle’s basement as he had the only finished basement in the area. They shared this small living space with about five or six other families.
Maria estimated they lived there for around a few years before they had to flee the city because it was now in the German bombing zone. Adgem is a town that is about fifteen miles from the North Sea, and Maria and her family fled to the country to a farm where they could be safe from the bombing runs. Shortly after World War One ended Maria’s mother died. Maria was just six years old.
In July of 1925 Maria, Andre, and their father immigrated to the United States. They came through Ellis Island and the took the train west. They settled in East Moline, Illinois. They lived on a small farm where Maria’s father grew crops of corn and potatoes. Maria remembers vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The Merci’s had goats on the farm as well. Maria said, “My job was to take care of the goats. I had to pick the fruit and vegetables to feed them, and I milked the goats.”
As she became older, she attended Saint Mary’s school for a few months, when she left school she went to work at the Licorice Factory. “I remember banding together the licorice cigars and cigarettes,” said Maria, “I will never forget that job.”
Maria then went to work for Gibberman’s in Rock Island where she was a supervisor. Gibberman’s made menswear. Maria said, “I could make a great suit.”
Her brother Andre went on to work at John Deere Harvester. Maria had one daughter, Marian Ballegeer and has one granddaughter Sandy Hoopes.
Maria volunteered at Illini Hospital in Silvis, Illinois for over sixteen years. In 2005 she was awarded the hospital’s Volunteer of the Year award. According to Mark Hoopes, Sandy’s husband, Maria logged, “over 3,800 hours” in volunteer time at the hospital.
Maria was an avid bowler. She bowled in leagues and at the age of 91 she rolled a 237 game with seven consecutive strikes.
Maria’s granddaughter Sandy remains very involved to this day. Sandy is retired from John Deere and her husband Mark is retired from a forty-year career at HON/Allsteel. When Sandy’s mother Marian needed additional care at Lutheran Living, Maria moved in to Lutheran Living as well so they could be closer together. Marian passed away in 2013 at the age of 81.
Maria loves to play bingo, we had to schedule our interview around her bingo time of 2 p.m. Maria said, “I appreciate my granddaughter very much, she is all I have left.” Maria still loves to enjoy a beer with a meal whenever she can. To celebrate her birthday, she had shrimp, onion rings from Boonie’s on the Avenue, and cold beer. “I love the shrimp, and onion rings. They are so good.” Schacht said with a smile. When asked if she had a secret to living to be 104 Schacht replied, “No secrets, live day by day, work hard, enjoy life and feel good.”