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Alumna Eleanor McKillip ’35 Enjoying the Life of a Century | SUNY Plattsburgh

If you wind the clocks back a century on Aug. 15, stories of the Panama Canal opening and World War I would fill the media. Meanwhile, in Ellenburg Center, Eleanor Atkinson, now Eleanor McKillip, was born into the first of almost 100 years spent in the Tri-Lakes area.

The 99-year-old local sat down on a sunny day at the Saranac Lake Village at Will Rogers retirement community and reminisced about her life with a jaunty chuckle and ageless mannerisms. McKillip spent most of her childhood in Bloomingdale, where she helped deliver meals her mother cooked for residents of a tuberculosis-cure cottage in Saranac Lake.

Attended Plattsburgh Normal School

She graduated as valedictorian at Bloomingdale Union High School in 1932 in a class of fewer than 10 kids, then attended college at Plattsburgh Normal School. While at college, McKillip enjoyed playing the ukulele and dancing alongside her fellow sorority members.

She received a teaching degree in 1935 and began teaching at schools at Lake Colby and Broadway, Saranac Lake, where she adored each second-grade class she was assigned.

“For about a week after I said goodbye to them in June, I’d be crying; I was missing them,” she said about her students. “Come next September, I would fall in love with the next class.”

Was a Rosie the Riveter

In 1942, McKillip relocated to East Hartford, Conn., to become one of thousands of “Rosie the Riveters” who labored to fill factory jobs vacated by soldiers away during World War II. Large machines surrounded her as she produced gears for England’s war planes in the Pratt and Whitney Factory.

“It was great because I could run those machines,” McKillip said. Once she had met her quota for parts, she would give the leftovers to the dozen or so nearby “Rosies.”

She spent free time during the war years writing letters to her future husband, Donald J. McKillip, who was stationed overseas.

Married Donald McKillip in 1947

When the war ended, the couple made their way back to the Adirondacks. They married in 1947 and moved with their children to a house on Franklin Avenue in Saranac Lake. Donald began work as a postman, and Eleanor taught at Petrova Elementary School.

Her daughter, Peggy, recalls a childhood “in a great neighborhood, where Mom was always working and keeping everybody in line. She was a good role model.” Neat handwriting and ample discipline were two of many maternal virtues that carried over from McKillip’s teaching career.

“She would always hook us up with a nice summer vacation; it didn’t matter where,” said her son, Mike. He remembers cramming the family into their 1954 Chevy and traveling to places such as Washington, D.C., and Canada each year.

“I didn’t belong to anything special; I just lived for the day,” McKillip said, with humble neglect to her involvement in more than 50 Bloomingdale and Vermontville clubs, the National Educators Association, the American Rosie the Riveter Society and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary.

Traveled Extensively

She retired in 1975 with five children who eventually gave her eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Much of her time since has been spent traveling the globe with her eldest daughter, visiting the pyramids of Egypt, the Blarney Stone in Ireland and the beaches of Jamaica, among other locations.

As a 92-year member of the Young as You Feel Bowling Team, she bowled a 240 at Romano’s Saranac Lanes.

“We sent it to the U.S. Bowling Association, and they said that it was a record for anybody over 90,” Peggy said. McKillip’s picture remains on the Romano’s wall to this day.

McKillip has kept her mind busy with crossword puzzles, card games and books throughout the years.

She said her secret to longevity is “no secret — just keep going with the flow.”

This story originally appeared Aug. 9, 2014, in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. The story and photos are used with permission.
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