CEDAR FALLS — Margaret Cundy turns 110 on Friday.

The NewAldaya Lifescapes resident will celebrate the occasion surrounded by family and friends, enjoying Scratch cupcakes and sharing recollections of her long and rewarding life. It likely will take several days to read the stack of birthday cards she’s received from well-wishers.

Her hearing and eyesight aren’t “so good these days,” she confesses. Still, she is imbued with a sweet zest for living and a memory as sharp as a tack, even if sometimes it takes a few seconds to find just the right word. Her face is framed by a cloud of white curls, and her blue eyes are bright and kind behind wire-rimmed glasses.

In her lifetime, the Cedar Falls native has lived through two world wars and pandemics. She’s experienced industrial, medical, technological, cultural and social advancements that, once thought wondrous, are today commonplace. In a word, history.

Margaret was born July 16, 1911, the daughter of Jens “Jim” and Elizabeth Markussen in Cedar Falls. Her dad, a barber, built his own building next door to the Black Hawk Hotel and Busy Bee Restaurant on the Cedar Falls Parkade. The family lived in a “lovely” apartment above the barbershop.

“We had all our Christmases down there,” recalls her nephew James Markussen of Cedar Falls. He and his wife visit his aunt regularly at NewAldaya.

“I was a roller skate kid. I roller-skated everywhere,” Margaret says. “My brother had a bike, but we couldn’t afford each of us a bike, so I had roller skates.” She remembers riding to the grocery store in her aunt’s electric automobile, but her parents didn’t own a car. “Dad had a motor boat he kept tied up behind the Ice House on the Cedar River. We used that boat a lot.”

She attended Lincoln Elementary School through the ninth grade. A photograph from the 1920s hangs on her wall that shows all of the students posed outside of the school. “I was in eighth grade when that picture was taken. The building was old. In the second story stairwell, you could put your foot on the wooden steps and it would sink into footsteps that had been worn into the wood. It was torn down and I went to ninth grade in the new Lincoln School,” which has since been torn down and replaced by the newest Lincoln School built in 2006.

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Margaret graduated from Cedar Falls High School at 16. She attended Iowa State Teachers College for one term while also working full time. “I got a tremendous chest cold, and the doctor said I would have to choose. It cost a dime to ride the trolley from downtown to the college, and I didn’t have the 10 cents, so I chose work.”

Margaret worked at Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. for 45 years. She retired in 1975. She married John Cundy on Oct. 2, 1949, and he died Oct. 31, 1976. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, suffering a leg wound. A combat engineer, his job was to probe for and clear landmines.

“We waited until he got back after the war to get married, and he hated to talk about it. We got married, and he opened a smoke shop in Cedar Falls,” she recalls. “He had a heart attack and died when he was just 62.”

They had no children, but Margaret helped take care of numerous nieces and nephews and their children. She has traveled to England and Europe, including searching for her grandfather’s grave in Denmark, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

At 80, Margaret returned to work at Southdale School. “I’m very proud about that. I went to school with the third-graders for two, three and four days a week to help the children who couldn’t read very well. I did that until I was 90.”

That’s when third-grade teacher Mary Ellen Maynard said she was going to retire, “and I decided to retire again too. Kids would come up to tell me something exciting and I couldn’t hear them very well, so it was time.”

While she doesn’t have an explanation for her longevity, she gives a nod to having regularly walked two miles. “I’ve done a lot of walking in my time. John and I used to hit the ditches for wild asparagus, bittersweet and mushrooms – he loved being outdoors and knew the names of all the birds and animals. After he passed, I still walked.”

Margaret lived independently for many years, previously living in a four-plex. She had her knees “done” and could no longer climb stairs, and later was hospitalized with an illness. She came out of the hospital into assisted living.

She keeps her spirits up by “thinking positive. My mother had a saying she told me when I was a little girl. I’ve used it as my motto ever since: ‘Kindness is to do and say the kindest things in the kindest ways.’ That’s what I’ve lived by my whole life.”

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