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From Philadelphia to the Philippines

Hermine Dornbach, the third of five children, was born in her family’s Philadelphia home on February 27, 1911. Coal and ice deliveries kept their home warm and the food cool. Gas lamps illuminated their home which did not have electricity. Also typical of that era, her mother heated water on the stove and filled a wooden bathtub for the three youngest children.

Her father supported the family by operating a barbershop with three employees; her mother managed the household and the children. They lived a comfortable life, except for the Great Depression when they spent money for only the most essential items. For a treat they went to the theater on Saturdays for matinee silent movies with live piano playing in the background. It cost five cents per person.

Reading, her favorite subject, occupied some of her childhood. In her friendly neighborhood kids played street games including lay low sheepy. They divided into two teams—one hid and the other sought. The children also jumped rope, played jacks and walked everywhere. The local kids nicknamed her “Minnie.”

The family attended the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. Hermine attended the Elkin Lewis Elementary School, which temporarily closed for two months in 1918 due to the flu pandemic. From there, she attended the newly built Harding Junior High School and later, Frankford High.

Two modern inventions entered the Dornbach’s lives in the 1920’s: Hermine’s older sister purchased a radio and her older brother bought a car for himself. The entire household listened to the radio and sometimes they were driven to a destination. Since they lived in a city, they mostly walked, took the bus or the trolley.

Following high school graduation, she worked as a stenographer for a company that made commercial saws and tools. A dance club set the scene for Hermine meeting her husband, Herbert A. Collins, who joined the Navy at age 16. They married in 1932 and honeymooned in Maryland. She describes him as “pleasant and outgoing.”

As a military officer with a career spanning 26 years, they traveled the globe. Herbert worked as a pharmacist for the Navy who stationed him in the Philippines, California, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. During their two years in the Philippines they had an “easygoing lifestyle” including a local woman to help with laundry and housework. Herbert worked five minutes from home.

The couple had a son and a daughter; they were married for 52 years. While raising her family, Hermine liked to read, knit, embroider and crochet. They vacationed in Cape May Point, New Jersey.

Widowed today, Hermine has lived at Pitman Manor since 2007. She still likes to read, particularly mysteries, and enjoys her children, five grandchildren and great grandchildren; one granddaughter has chosen her grandfather’s career path as a pharmacist. Last year, her daughter held a 100th birthday party for her at Pitman. Her words of wisdom: “Do no wrong and live a good life.”

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