SUNY Cortland grad, 99, to be honored at alumni ceremony

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CORTLAND, N.Y. – Not many retired teachers can boast that they have a former pupil who is 87 years old.

But for Malvina “Malvie” Cook Hunt ’38, who will be handed a bouquet as the “Most Mature” attendee during Alumni Reunion 2015, seeing one-time students as elderly adults is just another part of what will soon be a century of experience.

Malvie, who was born before women could vote, supermarkets were invented or America had fought a world war, will turn 100 on Oct. 5.

Until then, she considers herself 99 years young.

After a fulfilling, 37-year teaching career, three successful marriages and two children, Malvie still mows the lawn and grows vegetables and flowers at her home in rural Scipio Center, N.Y.

She also holds down a job.

To earn a little extra money she visits the King Ferry Winery a few miles down the road to prepare boxes of wine for shipment or serve as a greeter. The winery has issued Malvie her very own quality stamp.

“It’s good for me,” she said of the work. “I do it for an hour or two at a time.

“I have to ask even 30-year-olds their age before I can let them sample the wine, because they all look so young to me.”

On a beautiful recent summer’s day, winery staff made a fuss over their employee. An open house organized by one of her daughters, Miriam “Boo” Knapp, is planned to help her celebrate her centennial birthday. The party is on Saturday, Oct. 3, from 1 to 4 p.m. and anyone can attend.

Malvie said the event would give the grandchildren of her former students a chance to meet the teacher they’ve heard so much about.

“I think I’m pretty lucky,” she said.

Malvina "Malvie" Cook Hunt

On any given day, she bakes pies for her church or serves an elaborate lunch that her former Theta Phi sisters would be proud of in her roomy kitchen of her small house. The house stands on the same country road where she grew up as the daughter of a farmer.

As a child, Malvie and her siblings traveled that road daily in a horse-drawn wagon to get to their one-room schoolhouse.

“One really terrible and slushy winter’s day, we started out early for school in the wagon and the horse really struggled” to the school a few miles away, she said. “It was 11 o’clock by the time we got to school. The teacher put the poor horse in the barn and sent us on our way back home again in the early afternoon. We didn’t get home that day until after dark. That was what it was like before school buses.”

Like the children of most farm families at the time, she had been born at home and survival was far from guaranteed.

“I think I was five pounds. And I just couldn’t seem to gain weight. We were weighed out in the barn in those days; so only in the summertime did you get weighed.

“It was rather nip and tuck for a few years but, whatever it was, now I’m an unusually healthy old lady.”

She described how her father sold one lamb a year for each of his children and banked the proceeds so they could attend college.

“When I was only three, I heard that my lamb had died and I was afraid I would not be able to go to college after all,” she said. “I didn’t understand what college was, but anything with the word ‘go’ in it was something I wanted to do.”

As a teen, she began working in a private Cortland home for room and board so she could attend the normal school. At that time, the entire campus consisted of a single academic hall, Old Main.

Malvie admired several late, widely revered faculty members, including Ralph Adams Brown in history, and Ben A. Sueltz in mathematics and administration. She also once stood up to the school principal, Harry DeGroat, when he confused Malvina’s grade records with those of a student who flunked out.

She eventually joined the Theta Phi sorority in its house, located as she recalls on the corner of Lincoln Street. It was there that this girl from the country learned the fine table etiquette she displays to this day.

As a sophomore, Malvie fell very ill from what today might be called Guillain-Barré syndrome, and lost the rest of her year. Her family sent her to recover at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital because she had a relative there.

When Malvie returned to finish her studies, much had changed. She learned the Cortland Normal School would become the New York State Teachers College at Cortland, which it did in 1942. Her three-year certificate program had become a four-year college degree track.

“So I graduated from college, but it took me five summers to make up for the work. But when I graduated I was allowed to teach as had been promised. They gave extended time because of the war effort. There weren’t enough teachers.”

She worked during the year and took summer courses, mostly at Cortland. While in class, her daughter, Miriam, often was learning her letters at the campus nursery school.

Malvie started her career in 1938, by teaching for two years in a nearby one-room schoolhouse. There, she taught all grades and ages, from preschoolers to teenagers.

“One afternoon we heard crying and scratching at the door and when we opened it standing there was a little toddler who followed her brothers and sisters to school.” The mother was soon found, but after that the tyke wanted to come to school.

“After that, my kids took care of her,” Malvie said. “We pulled the map down and soon she knew where Greece and Texas and Florida and all the other countries were. She knew all her numbers. In the afternoon, somebody read her a story and put her to sleep.”

Then World War II intervened. Malvie became a welder to help with the war effort.

“When they found out I had a college education they wouldn’t let me be,” she said. “I was having an awful lot of fun being an ordinary welder and all that. Then I had to go to tech school. They told me, ‘You have to be an inspector.’”

Malvie met her first husband, Bob Morsack, when she literally fell into his arms from the wing of a plane that she was checking at Bell Aircraft near Buffalo.

“I started slipping on the airplane wing because I didn’t get the rubber-soled shoes I should. I started screaming of course, and this man appeared from under the wing and caught me.”

They married in 1943. They lived in Niagara Falls, N.Y., during their first two years together, setting up housekeeping in a brand new neighborhood called Love Canal. They soon had to vacate their beautiful new house, which had been built on what later was revealed as a toxic waste dump.

The couple moved back to Scipio Center when Malvie’s father suffered a heart attack. They lived with her parents for the rest of their lives. In the case of her mother, Alice Cook, that was almost two months past the age of 99.

Malvie taught for 32 years with the Southern Cayuga Central School District, then volunteered an additional 12 years. She and Bob were married for 34 years until his death.

In 1980, she married Fred Rafferty and they enjoyed a life together until his passing in 1988. In 1990, she exchanged wedding vows with Bob Hunt and would share the next decade with him. Malvie has two daughters, “Boo” and Mia Sohn.

She said she can’t wait until Alumni Reunion 2015, when she can meet her Theta Phi sisters.The sorority continues as a foundation supporting the college, student scholarships and social activities, but she was unaware the group still existed until not long ago.

“I kept asking,” she said. “I wanted to find our about Theta Phi for so long. Last year, it was a very nice young man who called me and asked, ‘Do you want to divide this (donation) to go to Theta Phi or for it all to go to Cortland?’ I was so excited. I divided my donation and then material came to me from Theta Phi. Then we got to writing back and forth.”

And so Malvie keeps herself young by nurturing her many past-times, loved ones and friends.

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