Gratitude and Happy Thoughts
By Josh Kinney
OCEAN CITY, N.J. – A gushing abundance of positive energy radiates from Nancy Longnecker, keeping her body, mind, and spirit young, witty, and sharp. For 90, one would think she was at least 20 years younger. Her secret? She simply embodies what she focuses on: a joyous mindset of gratitude.
Scenes, images, and memories from her extraordinary life adorn the walls, shelves, and tables of her apartment inside United Methodist Communities at The Shores in Ocean City, NJ. A Norman Rockwell painting hangs above the TV, framed photos of her kids and grandkids on the dock of their family lake house in the Poconos, and an Amish hat hang on the wall; the latter a tribute to her roots growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A hand-drawn sketch of her treasured Yardley, Pennsylvania home hangs adjacent to a coffee table where her late husband Donald’s book, ‘Reflections’, sits open to a page with a particular memory Nancy enjoys re-reading.
“My husband was a special, special man,” she exclaimed. “He wrote this book for our kids and grandkids. It’s a great legacy for them.”
Despite his passing nearly 15 years ago, Nancy spoke as if he was beside her. She met him when she was a nursing school student, and before military duty drafted him into WWII. While serving, he was ambushed, shot and paralyzed from the waist down, bound to a wheelchair for life.
“My folks didn’t have misgivings about our marriage, but they questioned if he might hold me back in life,” she said. “No, no way!” she continued. “He plunged me forward.”
From Franklin and Marshall College to Stanford University and The University of Texas, Donald earned his Ph.D. and became a clinical psychologist with Nancy by his side.
“His career helped me a lot,” she joked. “A lot of my friends would say, ‘Oh, you needed that, Nancy.’”
Doctors told the couple they would not be able to have kids but they believed otherwise, and had two. They went on to adopt twins. Their family blossomed to seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She feels very blessed to have such a loving and caring family.
Donald’s injury proved instrumental for good, influencing his desire to help people and inspired Nancy to do the same. “He felt like his life was spared for some reason that day,” she explained.
With a heart for special needs kids, Donald started a thriving school for emotionally disturbed children in Yardley, Pennsylvania, where they lived for 42 years. From Washington, D.C. to the statehouse in Pennsylvania, Donald sought and secured funds to relieve parents of financial burdens so their children could enroll.
“He was an amazing person,” said Nancy.
She recalled a fun and adventurous six-week road trip they took with their kids across the country in a trailer they customized for Donald’s wheelchair. She relishes stories of their family lake house in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and the heartfelt love and support of their neighbor who built a dock so Donald could wheel down onto the lake.
Doctors said Donald would not live past 40. He defied that prediction and lived to 76. For Donald and Nancy, their lives rippled out like a splash from a stone, influencing and helping countless people. Although they sometimes disagreed, they always worked it out.
“Communication is key,” she said. “You have to love, enjoy, and appreciate what you have.”
Nancy feels blessed to be at The Shores where she participates in exercises offered daily, arts and crafts, events, and engages with a multitude of friends.
“This is a wonderful place to be. There’s something for everyone and the service is fantastic,” she states. “There’s just so much you can get involved in.”
Nancy continues to share her secret with everyone she encounters — that a positive, grateful mindset is everything.