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Posted August 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Staying busy the secret of long life for Woodstock resident

Lettie Miller Frye sews quilts
Lettie Miller Frye, 97, sews quilts in her room at Greenfield of Woodstock, an assisted living facility. Rich Cooley/Daily

Frye's quilts
Frye's quilts have been auctioned to raise funds for the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department for several years, usually bringing in more than $300 each. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lettie Frye still makes quilts
Lettie Frye, 97, still makes her quilts from her room at Greenfield of Woodstock, an assisted living facility. Rich Cooley/Daily

Lettie Frye quilt
Rich Cooley/Daily

Lettie Frye made this quilt
Lettie Frye, 97, a resident at Greenfield of Woodstock, made this quilt recently in the assisted living facility off Ox Road. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Let's make a list of some of the ways Lettie Miller Frye can prove she's "no dummy."

She never smoked.

She doesn't eat salts, sugars or drink soda.

She can teach people how to make their own bread, mashed potato doughnuts, beet jelly and most anything else.

And at 97, she still quilts. And quilts. And, when there is still time left in the day, quilts some more.

The fact that Frye is 97 alone should be testimony to her being "no dummy," alluding to the healthy lifestyle she chose and has maintained. But the quilter in her has as much to do with it as anything. Frye has done it since she was a teenager, and if she hadn't?

"I probably wouldn't be living," she said.

The countless quilts she has made for friends, family, random people and the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department have made Frye somewhat of a local legend. Now a resident of Greenfield, an assisted living facility, she sews as much as she can to finish any quilts she has started, perhaps a sign that she knows time is of the essence, said Cindy Bailey, one of her 12 grandchildren.

Frye, who was admitted to Greenfield in the spring so she could have more supervision, has congestive heart failure, a pacemaker, diabetes and osteoporosis, said Mary Grubbs, one of six children and the only daughter.

"She's been in quite a bit of pain of late," Grubbs said.

Despite it all, the longtime Edinburg resident seems happy and has a positive outlook on life. Having lived a lot of it, Frye can be considered an expert. Her advice to a long stint on this planet -- be active and, if you can, quilt.

"There'd be less Alzheimer's patients," Frye said. "They'd have their mind on their work. ... I'd rather quilt than eat."

Born in a log cabin in Jerome, she picked up sewing from her mother, Vertie Dellinger-Barb, who wouldn't let her use a machine for the longest time. Frye's mother made all of the family's clothes, and Frye has carried on a part of that tradition.

"My parents learned me to work, and I think they learned me to love it," she said.

It's a trait Frye has been determined to pass on to ensure the health of younger generations.

"[She's taught me] hard work," Bailey said. "Eating healthy, gardening. She even makes her own ketchup, relish. ... To make a living using your own ability, strength, your hands, using what you have in your house. Taking care of yourself. Hard work pays off, I believe. A little pain here and there never hurt her. She continued to do for herself."

Frye earned a living by making things for others, cleaning houses and working at Aileen. She hitchhiked to work and didn't drive a car until she was 70.

Frye, who married twice and outlived both husbands, settled down in Edinburg in 1963 and became a part of the fire department's ladies auxiliary. She helped with cooking meals there until she was 86, at which point she started making quilts to be auctioned off as part of the company's annual fundraiser.

The quilts usually sell for more than $300, Grubbs said. Frye has already sewn a quilt for next year's auction, using the same machine that she has had since she moved to Edinburg.

She has chosen Grubbs as her quilt-making successor.

"She's doing good," Frye said.

But her knowledge and experience are irreplaceable. And her energy and work ethic just might be, too.

"I can talk to her on the phone," Grubbs said, "and by the time I get off I was ready to rest."

Bailey said, "She has touched so many people."

A life lived with healthy practices and plenty of activity has given Frye that opportunity. Upon arrival at Greenfield, she immediately got to work -- she taught a class for other residents on how to make their own bread and doughnuts.

"Lazy people, that's what kills people," Frye said. "As long as these hands work, I'm going to keep going."

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