Virginia Rettgers: Still going strong at 98

Published 3:16 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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With her 98th birthday creeping up on Thursday, February 13, Virginia Rettgers is sure that she has had a good life.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” the Spring Arbor resident said recently with a broad smile. “And I was married to a good husband.”

Slowed only slightly by some hearing loss, her thinking process and wit appear as vivacious as ever in spite of suffering a stroke three years ago.

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“Mom can’t get around like she could before the stroke,” said daughter Pam Cotter of Southern Shores. “Now it’s mostly by wheel chair. But her attitude is good and keeps up with the news and current events.”

“I’m not too interesting,” Virginia interjects. “I’m just an ordinary person.”

There are some who might say otherwise.

Growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania, a primarily blue collar town, her parents were knitters, knitting lady’s stockings. Virginia said as an only child, she more often than not played mostly with the boys there.

“We played football and marbles, but the boys always took my marbles,” she recalled with a hearty laugh during a recent visit with her at Spring Arbor. “And my maiden name is Felix, so they always called me ‘Felix the Cat’ but I didn’t like that.”

She did, however, like helping her father make wine.

“My father had a big grape vine and he taught me how to make wine,” Virginia explained. “I used to love to bottle the wine and put tops on the bottles. When my father died, I took over and made the wine. Good stuff. We would have to siphon it out of those big vats. Wow. That was a good night.”

Virginia said she also learned to play the guitar and was part of an all girl band.

“We played mostly for dances both at clubs and outdoors.” she added.

Virginia then went on to say her family did not really travel outside of Reading a lot when she was growing up, so she thought getting around in the world was a pretty amazing feat.

That all changed when, still in her early 20s, she married Forrest I. Rettgers, a Reading schoolmate.

Virginia then spent the next five decades traveling the world in support of her husband and his careers – careers that included climbing the ranks in the U.S. Army from private to colonel, Army liaison to the Senate, serving as an advisor to five different presidents, after leaving the Army becoming an administrative assistant to Virginia’s Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. and as senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.

In 1972, with her husband serving as president of Midwestern Industries, Virginia was the vice president and secretary.

Along the way, Virginia also helped her husband earn two bachelor degrees, a masters and typed his doctorate dissertation.

“He had the brains,” said Virginia. “He was very smart.”

While much of her life was providing support for her husband, she maintained a life of her own. She was one of the first civilian dependents to go to Europe after World War II, living in places like Paris and Antwerp while raising three daughters. The wife of an important military figure, she still found time for her own activities.

According to Pam and her younger sister Bonnie Rettgers, their mother was a volunteer worker at a number of activities that included school libraries and Girls Scouts. There was also time to take in the history and geography of the U.S. and other countries when the Army ordered a relocation.

“I met a lot of interesting political people and dignitaries from other countries,” Virginia added.

Among her favorites were President Ronald Reagan and Vermont Senator George Aiken. Both she termed as very nice people.

After almost three decades of military life came retirement from the Army and the Rettgers moved back to Reading. Their link to the Outer Banks came about the same time in 1973, with the purchase of a lot in Duck.

“We were in Duck when there was only something like five houses and you could count all the cars you see in a day on one hand,” offered Pam.

The Duck cottage has since been passed on to two grandsons in Texas and the Rettgers were back in Reading until, after 52 years of marriage, Colonel Rettgers passed away. To be closer to family, Virginia then moved to Chesapeake, Va. until her stroke three years ago, when she came to Spring Arbor in Kill Devil Hills.

Last year, on Valentine’s Day she was voted Spring Arbor Valentine Queen.

This year, in celebration of her 98th birthday, her family will be taking her out to lunch at the Jolly Roger for her favorite meal: lobster.

“I love lobster,” said Virginia with another big grin.

There have been a lot of changes in the world during Virginia’s lifetime. Along with the television came sliced bread, car radios, electric can openers, compact cassette tapes, smoke detectors, the internet and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

With three aunts who all lived to be well over 100, Virginia may see several more changes and have several more lobster meals to look forward to.



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