GREENFIELD – Mary Lou Trees is celebrating her 100th birthday this weekend, and her bright smile and sharp mind reflect a century of gratitude.

An artist, career woman and community volunteer, Trees is an inspiration to her five children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I grew up in poverty — I never was rich, but I had a good life,” she said. “If you want something bad enough, you can get it.”

Trees was surrounded by her children in her Greenfield home last week, laughing at a life well lived and sharing memories of years ago.

That whistle that could be heard across 40 acres of their Hancock County farm whenever it was time to come in for dinner.

That time the oldest was learning how to drive through and mom just sat quietly in the car, bumps and all.

And oh, the art. Each child proudly held up sketches and paintings created by their mother. Gifts that now hang in their homes, and will be passed on through the generations.

“I enjoyed working, but I sure never got tired of having my kids around,” she said.

Trees was born Mary Lou Lamme on May 11, 1924 in “an old mill shack in Kentucky.” Her father was a sawyer and while she had two half siblings, they were much older so she basically grew up as an only child.

She moved to Indiana at the age of 2, living in the Edinburgh area shortly before moving north Indianapolis. A graduate of Manual High School, she was given a full-ride scholarship to Herron School of Art and Design. She attended for one year before her family had health and financial problems that she was advised to go back home to work.

She remembers operating an elevator for $10 a month before getting jobs in factories. Still, her art skills came in incredibly handy: throughout World War II, she drew pictures for catalogs for military departments to order parts.

She met her first husband, Robert, while working on weekends at the Heron library; he was stationed at Butler University in the U.S. Navy and they met at a dance.

 Mary Lou Trees will celebrate her 100th birthday on May 11, 2024. Thursday, May 2, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“Neither one of us danced; we just sat there and talked,” she said. “He later came by and we went and had a malt.”

They went on to have five children: Mary Jo, Andy, Debbie, Bill and Jim McConnell. She worked “piecemeal jobs” while also raising her children; they moved to a farm near Fortville around 1954.

By the time most of her kids were grown, she started work at the Indianapolis Star in 1968. She drew sketches of products for advertising, as well as designed the layout of ad pages. She did that for more than 20 years before retiring at age 66 in 1990.

But she never stopped learning. Computers were just emerging in the advertising department when she left, so she decided to get a computer herself and learn how to work it in her retirement.

Her marriage to her first husband didn’t last, and she married two more times, outliving both. She has eight grandchildren, eight great-grand children and 18 great-great grandchildren. A party to celebrate her 100th birthday is this weekend—on the exact date of her birth.

Throughout retirement, trees went on to volunteer regularly at Faith Lutheran Church and even taught computers to preschoolers. Her art continued as she created brochures and pieces for her church.

In the greater Greenfield community, she designed the tribute garden to veterans located near Park Cemetery in Greenfield. She also helped start a community garden at Faith Lutheran Church, supplying fresh produce to the Hancock County Food Pantry and the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.

Her children say they are grateful for being raised going to church and their mother instilled following the Golden Rule.

“I think the most important thing she taught me was, respect yourself and let other people respect you too,” said her oldest, Mary Jo McConnell.

Is she surprised she’s hitting 100 this weekend?

“I always said I was going to,” Trees claims. “No — I don’t think of being 100 years old. If it weren’t for my pain (in my legs) — other than that, I do pretty good.”

Her secret to longevity?

“Lots of vegetables. And I try to love people,” she said. “I think if you give love, you get love.”

 Mary Lou Trees will celebrate her 100th birthday on May 11, 2024. Thursday, May 2, 2024. Mary Lou Trees along with her children: Mary Jo McConnell, Jim McConnell, Deborah Pruitt, Bill McConnell and Andy McConnell. Thursday, May 2, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter