PHOENIXVILLE - For anyone who's entered Seacrist's on the corner of Bridge and Main Streets, the familiar face of Bessie Pauline Seacrist was always present for over 57 years.
Seacrist, known as "Mrs. Seacrist" and "Den-Den" to family and friends, passed away last Thursday night at Phoenixville Hospital at the age of 104.
Born in York County on August 6, 1899, Bessie Pauline Straley (at the time) was a graduate of Millersville State Teachers College in 1920. While she was teaching elementary school in York, it was around that time she met her husband, James H. Seacrist.
The Seacrists moved to Phoenixville in 1930, where she began teaching in the Phoenixville School District. After Mrs. Seacrist retired from teaching, she and her husband purchased the former Dancy's Pharmacy on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Phoenixville in 1947.
Phoenixville Police Chief John Kalavik said he started working for Mrs. Seacrist back in 1959 when he was 13 years old.
"I would open the store at 5:30 and she'd be there by 6 a.m.," said Kalavik. "In her younger years, she was a taskmaster. She kept all of us in line there, in a nice way, of course. I'd hear her coming down the stairs, because she used to live above the store, so I made sure all of my friends were gone by then."
Kalavik said he referred to Mrs. Seacrist as "Den-Den," a nickname given to her by Kalavik's wife, Linda, Seacrist's granddaughter.
"Everyone called her that, including family and customers. She was a caring and loving individual," said Kalavik. "She really enjoyed life, was sharp minded and always asked pertinent questions. She paid close attention to the lottery every evening."
Two of Seacrist's grandsons, James C. and Steven A. both had the opportunity to work alongside their grandmother.
"She was an inspiration to us all," said James. "Someone of her age still performing like someone who was young, I never remember her getting old. When she went from 70 to 100, it's like she never aged. She never complained about anything or anyone.
"She was a happy person, and the store was everything to her. She enjoyed seeing the customers, and the simple day-to-day activities around the store. She especially liked bossing me around, and she was good at it. She was very strong-willed, but in a good way."
Steven said, "We worked together for a long time, and we had a special relationship. Not too many people get the opportunity to work alongside their grandmothers for 20 years like that. She had a keen sense of business, and she taught us a strong work ethic. Her desire to always wanting to help people kept her going all of these years. She was always on top of things, and the business was a big part of her life."
Several residents of Phoenixville shared their memories of Mrs. Seacrist. Long-time customer Robin Stephens said Mrs. Seacrist was admired for being kind and thoughtful.
"Before she broke her hip, I would see her almost everyday," said Stephens. "She was always friendly and had a kind word for everyone. She is an example of how to grow old gracefully and I feel blessed to have known her."
Bob Domarasky said he has fond memories of Mrs. Seacrist manning the lottery machine.
"I can remember going into Seacrist and seeing Bessie at the lottery machine. She was one to hardly ever make a mistake on that machine. She would zip four to five people in line out of there so fast it was truly amazing," said Domarasky. "She was so amazing that she was still straightening boxes on shelves just a few months ago. She was truly determined and the will to live was unremarkable. She must have done something right to be able to be either the oldest and one of the oldest living residents of this town she called home. She will truly be missed."
Since her passing, James and Steven said the family has been celebrating the way Mrs. Seacrist celebrated lived her life.
"We're celebrating the way she lived her life, and the little things that she enjoyed," said James. "She was very religious, and reading her bible daily, which became a big part of her later years. As the years went on, that's what I remember about her the most, I'll miss seeing her around. She's a big part of all of our lives. She was always good to us, she lived a long, long life and I hope to live as long as she did. I hope I have her genes."
"I liked seeing her everyday and she had a good sense of humor," said Steven. "She loved to watch everything that was going on in town. No matter what day it was, she was always ready to go to work. She was always there and that's how we got really close while working together."
"She was the head of the household, even up to the very end. I can't believe that she's not sitting on top of the world right now, and that she won't be around, keeping an eye on us."