Story by Sara Paul
When Gloria Ball accepted an invitation to a blind date in 1945, she never imagined her husband-to-be would whisk her away, not only whisked away in love, but transported to far away places, far away from her beloved Warwick.
This year, Carmen Gloria Ball Schlagel, known to most as Gloria, celebrated 95 years of age, nine precious siblings she has sadly lost, and countless cherished moments with family and friends.
The US Air Force wife and mother of four has lived in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, California and Massachusetts, to name a few. Brave and unflappable, Gloria went with the flow of her husband’s Army life, embracing each chapter.
“You learn from other people, how they do things, what they appreciate in life, and in every different move we made, the culture and the people were very different,” said Gloria.
Carmen Gloria was born to James and Gertrude Ball on Oct. 22, 1924. Her father James was born on a farm in Warwick, while her mother Gertrude was from Switzerland, settling in America at age 14.
Her parents met in Greenwood Lake, married, and had 10 children, six boys and four girls. Her mother, Gertrude, was 29 years old when they married, while 39 year old James was a widower without any children.
Gloria is the fourth from the oldest of the 10 Ball children and the last one living. Her mother was a singer and loved all kinds of music, particularly the opera Carmen. When Gloria was born at the old hospital at 8 Forester Ave., her mother chose the name Carmen, though it never stuck.
Gloria attended primary school at age four on High St. in the big red brick building, and now, more than 90 years later, vividly remembers those playful days in first grade (at the time, children did not attend kindergarten).
“We had recess outside in the dirt, not like today with all this fancy stuff,” she chuckled.
“Our janitor was Mr. Anderson, and my first teacher was Miss Domosky. She was short and just the sweetest lady. I remember she made me sit in the front because I was so little,” recalls Gloria.
While the sweet, little Warwick girl was busy with school and recess, her energetic, sometimes mischievous brothers, became known to some in town as the “Ball Busters.”
“They were very fun, yes, they were. And they were also very generous and hard-working, and as ten children we all got along. There were never any arguments, and we continued to communicate our whole lives,” Gloria said.
Her fondest childhood memories include gatherings of her siblings and their friends (ten kids plus friends equals a lot of kids should one do the math) at the family’s over-sized dining room table to play ping pong (as they were not permitted to play cards).
“We had no TV. Mom was listening to opera on the radio, and dad was napping. So, we played ping pong every Sunday,” said Gloria.
Her strict, yet loving upbringing in the 1930’s and 40’s home was extremely regimented, something Gloria still appreciates today.
“We came home from school, went upstairs, put on play clothes, did homework and did our chores. There was no TV, no video games, and Sunday was devoted to Sunday School and Church,” she said.
Furthering Her Education
Gloria continued her schooling at the Hamilton Ave. School for sixth grade, and then seventh through 12th grades in the building, which is now Park Avenue Elementary School.
After caring for her mother and grandmothers, Gloria appropriately applied to the nursing program at SUNY Delhi, where she finished her high school education and earned her practical nurse’s license in 1946. She also took courses at the Endicott College, School of Nursing.
An Unlikely Suitor
Though Gloria had gone to school with a boy just about her age for her whole life, she did not know Walter Schlagel well at all.
It was fate, however, that the young man, who had become a US Army Air Corps soldier, was home visiting his best friend, Bill Minturn. It was Bill who set up the blind date, though certainly not without parental consent.
“You know at that time you didn’t just go out with anybody without dad knowing them. It wasn’t like today,” Gloria said matter-of-factly.
Luckily for Walter though, when the twenty-something lad asked to take Gloria out, her family knew him well, and more importantly, knew his family quite well.
Love at First Flat
Gloria retells the hilariously sweet details of her first date with Walter with romantic gusto and girlish enthusiasm. The two traveled to the Paramount Theatre in Middletown, NY, though not without some mishaps.
After Walter changed their sudden flat tire, he relied on his more proper and much cleaner date if she could handle the transaction with the movie theatre ticket salesman.
“I’ll have to give you the money to pay for the movie because my hands are too dirty,” Gloria remembers him saying.
Gloria and Walter were engaged in April of 1946 and were married on Nov. 17, 1946 at 3 p.m. in the afternoon in the Warwick Reformed Church, the same church Gloria was baptized in as a child.
They moved to Walter’s family’s farm on Blooms Corner Rd. Walter was employed as a caretaker, and Gloria worked at St. Anthony Community Hospital as a “private duty” nurse, caring for only one person in a hospital setting before moving to the obstetrical and maternity units for about three years until her first son John was born in 1949. The couple’s daughter and second child, Sue Ann, was born in 1950.
Leaving Warwick & A New Life on the Road
In 1950, Walter was called back from the US Reserves into active service. It was the beginning of several decades of moving from city to city, from military base to military base, and Gloria handled it with grace, acceptance, and a childish excitement.
“Oh, it was no problem whatsoever. We’d get in the car and drive for hours, get motel at $20 a night, and sleep in two double beds,” recalls Gloria, adding that the only problem was sometime’s her daughter, Sue, would get car sick.
A now grown up Sue has only fond memories of life on the road and homes across the globe.
“What made it easy and not traumatic at all was that everybody embraced you because that was the way of life. Everybody welcomed you knowing that they had gone through same process,” said Sue, noting that her family, who lived in nine places in 13 years, as well as many military families moved every two to three years.
Gloria and Walter’s third child and second son Walter “Wally” was born in July of 1951 at West Point.
Certainly, life as a military family was not without hardships, however. In 1953, Walter came home on a brief leave covered in a very serious case of the mumps. Doctors were concerned for his health, though they promised he would bounce back, though he and his wife would likely not be able to have anymore offspring. It was a happy ending, however, as their second daughter and fourth child Mary Lou was born nine months after the prognosis, in August 1953.
With a final stop as residents of Massachusetts, the Schlagel family returned to Warwick in 1965, where Walter finished his military service at Stewart Air Force Base, retiring in 1968.
He had served in the Vietnam War, World War II, and the Korean War, as a bombardier, pilot and radar observer.
The family built a house on Blooms Corner Rd., and the kids all finished school in Warwick, graduating from Warwick High School. Walter and his son John started farming again, and Walter also drove a school bus for the Warwick Valley Central School District.
Soon after, in 1971, Gloria began driving a school bus for students with disabilities. It was an experience she would cherish always.
“When I drove that bus, I knew I had really done something. They were so cute and so excited,” remembers Gloria, who later became a driver for Warwick Senior Dial-a-Bus, retiring at age 77.
Walter sadly passed away on Feb. 21, 2013 at age 88, after a long battle with cancer.
Retired & Busier Than Ever
Though not working at a formal job, Gloria was still quite busy, taking care of her brothers, helping out at St. Peter’s Church, and, of course, meeting dear friends for dinner every Friday at The Pioneer Restaurant, now Double S Smokehouse.
Eating and gabbing with her old town besties like Lilabet Lewis McLean and Nina Sanford Lewis was, for Gloria, “… a great big family affair!”
These days, Gloria is happily surrounded by her eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren and works tirelessly on her vegetable and flower gardens. Rumor has it, that the devoted baker is also in possession of a “never empty cookie jar.”
Gloria hosts both Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for her family, knits and donates hats, scarves and lap throws to churches and nursing homes, mails the monthly church newsletter at Good Shepherd Lutheran and bravely attacks jigsaw puzzles of more than 500 pieces.
After 95 years of travel, family, ups, downs, love and loss, Gloria is humbly grateful for everything in her life.
“I have just been so blessed. My family has been super. We’ve all gotten along, and I really communicate with my children. I keep nothing from them. With good health, a wonderful husband, and a childhood that couldn’t have been any better, I’m happy that I really did things, and I really appreciated whatever I was given,” said Gloria.