Betty Wagner: A Cranbury treasure hits the century mark

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Betty Wagner

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Betty Wagner was born in 1917, the same year as John F. Kennedy, before the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified and with Europe aflame in World War I.
She has seen much in a lifetime that the rest of Cranbury, the community she moved to in 1971 and served in many roles, will help to celebrate Nov. 12 at the Cranbury Museum from 1 to 4 p.m.
“I’m happy to be sharing my birthday with everybody,” said Wagner, now living in Monroe Village, a retirement community. “It’s a great occasion for me.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Wagner reflected on turning 100 — her birthday was Oct.22 — and what she attributes her longevity to. She said it never occurred to her that she would live to that age nor was it a goal of hers.
“I just lived every day to its fullest as I could see it,” she said. “I did things as I saw they needed to be done. I like doing things for others, primarily.”
Wagner was involved in her adopted community, having belonged to the Woman’s Club of Cranbury and the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society — just some of ways she participated in the civic life of the community.
As to what she still would like to achieve in life, she replied, “I don’t know, that’s the amazing part. What’s there for me to achieve? That’s, I think, probably the great mystery. Have I done it all? I don’t think so.”
Much, though, has happened in the world around her. Born when Woodrow Wilson was president, she lived through the Great Depression and two world wars and has seen the country change.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “It’s one of those things you look back and you think, I can’t believe it all went on. It’s hard to believe that we lived so much in so little time.”
In looking to the world of today, she laments seeing people tapping away on their mobile devices for hours on end and the loss of human contact. She is concerned about young people turning to drugs and the lack of religion.
“I really am concerned about what goes on from here if we’re turning to the machine, if we’re turning to the robot, if we’re turning to all of these automatic things,” she said. “Myself, I’m always sad when children grow up without religion of some sort, some belief, some drive, some motivation, something to keep them moving to move onward, not sit around and mope.”
When asked what the trick was for living to 100, she didn’t hesitate.
“Well, just keeping busy, I guess, would be one of the things I would say. Being involved, helping along the way. Doing things for others mostly, I think, is important. You can’t be worried about yourself so much. I think just being busy is the important thing,” she said.
“I wake up sometimes in the morning and think, ‘What’s today?’” she said. “And before I know it, I’m so involved I stop worrying about what’s today.”