Since she was a little girl, Mary Frances Mahan has been going to church at the Cole Street Missionary Baptist Church, which is on the corner of Cole and Lemon streets about half a mile from the Square, every Sunday she’s lived in the county. At the church, Saturday, surrounded by six generations of her family, Mahan got a head start on celebrating her 103rd birthday, which is actually July 18.
At her birthday party, when Mahan’s great-niece, Stephanie Grogan, asked how Mahan still looks so young, Mahan replied, “That was God above.”
Mary Frances Mahan was born Mary Frances Grogan in 1911. If her maiden name, Grogan, sounds familiar, it’s because there is a Grogan Street in Marietta, just off Highway 120 near Bell Park. Grogan Street was named for Richard Grogan, Mahan’s grandfather, who settled there in the 1800s, according to Mahan’s niece, Nora Martin of Acworth.
Mahan was born in a house on Grogan Street, as were her four sisters — Elnora, Virginia, Laura and Tessie — and her brother, Douglas. The house is still there, and still owned by Mahan’s family. Mahan’s sister, Virginia Williams, 91, lives there now. Her other surviving sibling, Tessie Atwater, 96, lives in Pittsburgh.
Mahan has nothing but found memories of her youth in Marietta.
“Oh, it was a beautiful life, because I was small. I didn’t have nothing to be large over.”
And every Sunday, Mahan made sure to visit at the Cole Street Baptist Church to say thanks for her beautiful life.
“That’s my belief. Not only me, but my parents. They (taught) me. And that’s what they (taught) me about going to church,” Mahan said. “And that’s what I believe. I believe in going to church, to celebrate.”
Mahan met her husband, William Mahan, at the Cole Street Baptist Church when they were teenagers; they married when Mahan was 16, she thinks.
“Now that, I can’t remember when I got married,” she said. “That was a long time. … Let’s see, I guess I was 14, 15, 16 years old.”
Mahan lived in Marietta until 1958, when she and her husband moved to Cincinnati. When asked why she moved, Mahan said, “Oh, I went to Cincinnati just to be going.”
The Mahans lived in Cincinnati for 40 years, where Mahan worked at the Netherlands Hilton as a maid. While working at the Hilton, Mahan met Walt Disney and even got a picture with him. The photo was on display at her birthday party Saturday, along with a letter from President Barack Obama on the occasion of her 100th birthday and many pictures of Mahan’s family. By Martin’s count, Mahan has more than 220 living family members.
Mahan’s large family includes the late Hugh Grogan, Marietta’s first black city councilman, who is related to her on her father’s side.
In 1998, Mahan came back to Marietta, back to Grogan Street and back to the Cole Street Baptist Church. She lived in her family’s house for a number of years with her sister, but has recently moved in with her great-niece, Virginia, in Kennesaw.
In all of Mahan’s long life, there was something she had never done until 2008: vote in the state of Georgia.
“That was the first time in history she had voted in Georgia. She was born here, but she never voted,” said Grogan. “And then she left and went to Cincinnati. And she voted there, but when she came back to Georgia, (2008) was the first time she had ever voted in Georgia.”
The vote was important to Mahan because it was the first she had the opportunity to vote for a African-American candidate for president — so important she made Virginia take her to a polling place at age 97 and help her fill out a ballot, rather than vote as an absentee.
“She never thought she’d live to see an African-American man be the president of the United States of America,” Grogan said.Mahan’s history is firmly rooted in Marietta — on a street with her family’s name on it and in a 127-year-old church full of memories.
“She was born in Marietta, and she’s been coming (to Cole Street Baptist Church) since she was a child,” Williams said.
Mahan’s family believes her faith is what has kept her strong over the last 103 years.
“She would always say ‘Look up and live. No matter what you’re going through, look up and live.’ That’s her favorite quote,” Grogan said.