TONY D'IMPERIO/For the County News
Myna Hilts and her daughter Byrta Ford, enjoying each other's company at Myna's 103rd birthday celebration in the Livingston County Nursing Center.
Leicester woman reaches 103rd birthday
As a ten year old girl in 1919, Mynabelle “Myna” Hilts remembers World War I and President Woodrow Wilson.
Mynabelle is an “old German name” said Byrta Ford, Myna’s daughter, and the center for nursing staff delights in using Mynabelle instead of Myna when talking to her mom. It’s such a rare name today that there’s joy to hearing the ‘music’ in it.
Myna is alert, looking me right in the eye as we talked during her birthday celebration at the nursing center.
She lived alone in her home until 98, drove a car until 95 and played bridge, a card game popular in the ’40s and ’50s that was complicated, requiring logic and reason. Myna loved the game, only quitting at 96.
There seems to be that longevity ‘gene’ in Myna’s family: a sister lived to 94, while her mother was in her 90S when she passed. Sadly, Myna’s husband passed away 45 years ago at age 60.
Myna has a healthy appetite, finishing all of her lunch and saving room for a piece of her birthday cake and a cup of coffee. “Her favorite snack is M&Ms,” remarked Byrta, smiling.
Myna grew up in Rochester, graduating as an illustrator from RIT in 1928, back when the college was named Mechanics Institute and was located on Main Street in downtown Rochester. There were very few women enrolled in Mechanics Institute at that time.
Myna never had a career in the corporate world, but she and her husband ran an antique business in a shop near their home in Leicester. There, Myna used her illustrator’s talent and skills to paint designs on the lampshades of old glass lamps.
“My dad worked for the phone company, and in his spare time during evenings and weekends, he repaired the old lamps, getting them ready for mom’s lampshade designs,” said Byrta.
Making designs on metal serving trays and on the headrest of wood chairs was another expression of Myna’s creativity. She also did paintings of wildlife, her favorite subject.
“Not to sound prejudiced, but mom was very good as an illustrator. I’m very proud of her talent and accomplishments. And I’m thankful for her good health,” said Byrta.
Town of Leicester Historian Tom Roffe was Myna’s neighbor, remembering that she was quite involved in the community and recalling that she organized a regional art show held at the National Hotel in Cuylerville.
Roffe wonders whether Mynabelle Hilts — born October 11, 1909 — is the oldest resident of Livingston County.