Grandparents Day Originated in
By DONALD W. WYATT
Each generation of Americans includes a few strong-willed
individuals who formulate ideas and persist in making them realities.
They figuratively move mountains and change the courses of rivers to
attain their goals. West Virginia has such a person in Mrs. Marian McQuade
of Oak Hill, who modestly calls herself "just a housewife." She did
not rearrange the landscape but unhesitatingly tackled the not inconsiderable
task of convincing her state's Governor, U.S. Senators, and a President
of the United States of the rightness of her cause-National Grandparents
A lifelong Mountaineer, Mrs. McQuade cares deeply
about people. Her many achievements and activities through the years
reflect her humanitarian nature.
The 76-year-old mother of 15, grandmother of 40,
and great-grandmother of three has been vice-chairman of the West Virginia
Commission on Aging, delegate to the White House Conference on Aging,
president of the Vocational Rehabilitation Foundation, and vice president
of the Nursing Home Licensing Board.
As a mother and community activist, she has made
positive contributions to the state she loves through organizations
such as the Order of the Eastern Star and the Fayette County Historical
Society, but she is best known beyond the state's borders as founder
of the annual tribute to grandparents.
It will surprise many who believe the observance
has commercial roots, but it is because of the dedication and persistence
of this unassuming coal miner's wife that the Sunday after Labor Day
each year is designated National Grandparents Day.
She and Joe McQuade, her husband of 57 years,
are devoting their golden years to making the observance truly meaningful.
They reach out to grandparents and grandchildren throughout the nation
from their home in Oak Hill, a community of about 5,000 centered around
U.S. Route 19 in Fayette County 40 miles southeast of Charleston.
Mrs. McQuade was born Marian Herndon in Caperton,
which is now one of the ghost towns in the New River Gorge. Her father
was a coal miner. As a child, she often visited her grandmother, Maude
McClung Dickerson on her 130-acre farm.
"After working all day on the farm, Grandma would
walk off to visit elderly people of the community," she recalls. "Often
I would tag along. I never forgot talking with those delightful people.
That's where my love and respect for oldsters started."
She was given an opportunity to express her regard
for older people in 1956 when she first helped Jim Comstock, editor
of the West Virginia Hillbilly and the Richwood News Leader, with organizing
a Past 80 Party. Now a 35-year tradition, the Past 80 Party is held
annually in Richwood on the second Saturday in June. Some 135 octogenarians
plus additional seniors under 80 from all parts of the state enjoy an
afternoon of feasting, contests, and entertainment. Among those cheerfully
serving participants have been U.S. Senator and Mrs. Robert Byrd and
state and local officials.
Organizing the Past 80 Party required contacting
nursing homes, and Mrs. McQuade was saddened by learning of the chronic
loneliness experienced by so many patients.
"They load these people up with gifts at Christmas," she said, "but
they leave them alone the other 364 days of the years. I wanted there
to be another day to visit."
In addition, her concern sparked the idea of honoring
the nation's grandparents wherever they reside. After five years of
intense personal lobbying, she obtained a proclamation from Governor
Arch Moore, and on May 27, 1973, West Virginia became the first state
with a special Grandparents Day.
But that was only the beginning. Buoyed by success
at the state level, Mrs. McQuade worked through U.S. Senators Robert
Byrd and Jennings Randolph to create a national observance. The date
was shifted to September because May's calendar is too crowded and also
to symbolize the autumn of life.
Her efforts bore fruit in September 1978, when
the White House called to inform her President Jimmy Carter had signed
Public Law 96-62-it had been given unanimous Congressional approval-designating
the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. The first nationwide
observance occurred in 1979 and it continues to grow in popularity.
The statute's preamble cites the day's purpose
as: "... to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity
to show love for their children's children, and to help children become
aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer."
"I couldn't believe it," the 5'3" 145-pound, soft-spoken
dynamo said of her reaction to the call from the President's aide.
Marian McQuade at the White House
with First Lady Pat Nixon
Mrs. McQuade visited Washington as a member of
the West Virginia Commission on Aging to lobby for the legislation.
She was always optimistic it would pass, but it "took some getting used
to when my dream became a reality," she said.
The nation's capital had heard from her on other
occasions. One of 10 women participating in a 1958 question-and-answer
session with President Dwight Eisenhower, she asked Ike for assurance
her children would have opportunities for higher education.
"The President asked me how many
children I had," she recalls. "When I told him, his mouth dropped open.
It took him several moments to recover and answer my
Most of the 15 McQuade children have earned college
degrees, and some of the grandchildren are now college students. One
daughter is an attorney, another is a psychiatrist, and three sons are
in the coal business.
Those men are following in their father's footsteps.
As a teenager, Joe McQuade entered the mines at Minden, a few miles
from Oak Hill as a hand-loader on his knees in low coal. He progressed
from earning 50 cents a ton loading coal to a position as a mine superintendent.
Then he founded his own coal company. Today, retired from active management,
he serves as a consultant to the Berwind Company.
Mr. and Mrs. McQuade pay all Grandparents Day
expenses, including printing and postage costs for an average of three
packets a day sent to people who inquire about the observance.
There is a misimpression afoot that Grandparents Day originated as
a florists' promotion. That is not true; however, the flower industry
does prepare each September for the many requests for bouquets for grandparents.
Hallmark Cards requested permission from Mrs.
McQuade to publish specially designed greeting cards, which the founder
described as "a very nice line." The firm volunteered a royalty to defray
expenses, but the McQuades declined. "It would take away from the meaning,"
she said seriously. "From the beginning I didn't want to make money,
and I have never accepted donations."
Over the years Mrs. McQuade has persuaded outstanding
West Virginians from government, education, religion, business, and
community organizations to serve on the Founders Advisory Committee
which promotes the annual observance.
Governor Cecil Underwood and Mcquade Family, 1956
Her efforts have been recognized through numerous
awards: a 1976 citation as one of 10 West Virginia Women of Accomplishment,
designation the same year as a Fayette County Person of the Year, a
1979 citation from the West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs, a
1981 award as Whitman's Chocolates' Grandparent of the Year, and in
1989 as Richwood's Person of the Year. The U.S. Postal Service issued
a 10th anniversary commemorative envelope bearing a likeness of Mrs.
McQuade on September 2, 1989.
Artist's drawing depicts Marian
and Joe McQuade and their 15 children.
The promotional packet she mails out includes
a personal letter, a history of the event, facts about Mrs. McQuade,
suggested activities, the day's purposes, a copy of "Beatitudes for
Friends of the Aged," and a family tree chart.
The founder's current effort centers on convincing
people to ferret out old photographs stored in attics and bureau drawers
so grandparents can identify them. She believes it is critical to accomplish
this "while there are still people to ask."
Mrs. McQuade said Grandparents Day observances
can take almost any form from demonstrations of talents such as cooking,
sculpting, and quilting, to family dances and singalongs, ice cream
socials, dinners, compilation of family trees, and, of course, visits
to nursing home patients. Regardless of the choice of activity, the
idea is to honor grandparents and to cultivate bonding with their grandchildren.
Part of the bonding process is familiarizing young people with ancestral
lines. She stresses it is not necessary to spend a lot of money to have
a rewarding day.
Although Mrs. McQuade traditionally has been on
the road speaking at churches in nearby states during the weeks preceding
Grandparents Day, she has always made certain she is in Oak Hill each
Sunday after Labor Day. Family members living in the area drop in to
visit, and those farther away call or send cards and gifts.
Not satisfied with only promoting grandparent
events, she continues to help with Past 80 Parties, compiles lists of
West Virginia's centenarians, is active in Oak Hill Baptist Church,
and volunteers at Plateau Medical Center, Oak Hill's hospital, two days
a week. She derives genuine satisfaction from cheering neglected and
lonely patients at the hospital.
"I am the luckiest person in the world," she declares
with conviction. "I have a wonderful, understanding husband, my children
are all healthy and well, and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren
brighten my days. Then I have my work promoting Grandparents Day, working
with seniors, helping Jim Comstock with the Past 80 Party, and visiting
the sick and lonely in hospitals and nursing homes. What more could
Indeed, giving of herself is this cheerful but
determined native West Virginian's greatest joy. And because she cares
so much, the nation now has a permanent way to recognize the positive
contributions of grandparents everywhere.