Come Tuesday, Election Day, Kenneth and Aletha Heinbaugh will have voted for 64 years in Summit Station.
The couple, both of whom are 85, cast their first ballots at the Summit Station Fire Company in 1958. It was the year after they were married, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.
They have done so ever since.
The Heinbaughs are among a select group of citizens, sometimes referred to as super voters, who have cast ballots for more than 50 years.
In recent interviews, regardless of party affiliation, several super voters expressed abiding faith in the electoral process.
Though they come from different economic, educational and cultural backgrounds, by their action, the super voters have demonstrated a belief that voting is a right to be cherished, protected and exercised.
A teacher’s legacy
Sweethearts at Cressona High School, Kenneth and Aletha Heinbaugh were not yet old enough to vote when they graduated in 1955, the year they turned 18.
Even after marrying in 1957, they still had not turned 21, then the legal voting age.
It wasn’t until 1958 that they were able to register and vote.
The Heinbaughs credited Charles Beck, their problems of democracy teacher at Cressona High, with emphasizing the importance of voting.
“He put pride in you, and made you aware of your responsibility as an American citizen,” Aletha said. “You had the will to vote.”
It was a guiding principle the Heinbaughs shared during their 65 years of marriage.
Despite inheriting the responsibility for running a farm after his father passed away when he was 15, Kenneth found time for public service.
He served on the Wayne Twp. Planning Commission when the Lake Wynonah development was being built. He was the first superintendent of the Sunday school at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. He also served as president of the Future Farmers of America Schuylkill County chapter. He was also president of the state organization.
It’s important, the Heinbaughs said, to give back to the community.
True to Charles Beck’s teaching, they maintain that it’s important for people to pay attention to what’s going on in the nation and the world.
“You should vote,” Aletha insisted. “We were taught that your vote counts.”
A civic duty
Growing up in Summit Station, Brian Ferrence recalls his mother serving as a poll worker on occasion in the Summit Station Fire Company.
That image of Erma Ferrence and other women engaging in the democratic process shaped a respect for the electoral process that has lasted throughout his adult life.
“It’s kind of your civic duty,” said Ferrence, 72, who’s been voting for 50 years.
Though he might have first voted in 1971, he’s certain he voted in the 1972 presidential election where Republican President Richard M. Nixon soundly defeated Democrat George McGovern.
Ferrence’s faith in the democratic process is rooted in his working-class background.
His parents, John and Erma, were married during the Great Depression of the 1930s and held President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in high regard.
“My parents believed the Roosevelts gave people hope during the Depression,” Brian recalls.
Ferrence’s grandfather, a Slovak immigrant, worked in the mines. So did his father, a power shovel operator in the strippings, a member of the United Mine Workers of America union.
Brian would earn a degree in earth science at Millersville University, and teach junior high science in Berks County. His wife, the late Suzanne Ferrence, taught English in Minersville High School.
Brian remembers when people voted on paper ballots, folded them up and placed them in a metal box. Even though paper ballots are now a backup to computer tallies, he still likes the feel of voting on paper.
“There’s something about paper ballots that makes you feel like you’re a part of a long tradition,” Brian said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done my civic duty — I voted.”
It’s your voice
Claire Riley Kempes grew up in a household where stories about World War II were common.
Her parents, John and Kathryn Murray Riley, both served during the war. He was in the Army, and she was a Rosie-the-Riveter at the B.F. Goodrich tire plant in Montgomery County.
“I remember going to vote with my parents as a child,” recalled Claire, a retired teacher who lives in Saint Clair.
She cast her first ballot in 1972, the second year the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18. She’s voted consistently for 50 years.
Being part of the first generation of 18-year-old voters, Claire feels a kinship with suffragists.
It wasn’t until 1920 — 144 years after the nation was founded — that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Suffragists fought for nearly 70 years, enduring ridicule and even jail, to win the vote for women.
“I can’t not vote for all they went through,” Claire said. “You need to vote because you have a voice, and people fought to give you that voice.”
A rare privilege
Between them, Robert J. and Carol Bylone have been voting for more than 100 years.
Retired pharmacists who met at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, the Bylones vote at the East Brunswick Twp. building in McKeansburg.
Robert attributes his voting longevity to a life skills course at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia and a stint in the Air Force.
At Bartram, he learned the mechanics of voting, the history of political parties and their role in American democracy. It was what he saw in the Air Force that put theory into practice.
Monitoring Russian and Chinese communications at an Air Force installation in Pakistan during the 1960s was a real eye-opener.
“That really reinforced what I learned at Bartram,” Robert said. “You don’t want to be governed by them.”
The granddaughter of Polish immigrants who came through Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century, Carol’s belief in the right to vote is rooted in her family.
Her parents, Valentine and Letha Przybeck, always voted in the primary and general elections.
“They set an example for me that voting was what you do when you’re a citizen of the United States,” said Carol, a 1964 graduate of Blue Mountain High School. “It was important for them to vote.”
Former owners of the Liberty Square Pharmacy in Orwigsburg, the Bylones both worked at Redner’s Pharmacy in Schuylkill Haven before retiring.
“As a citizen of the United States, you should go to the polls and vote,” Carol insists. “In the U.S., you have a privilege that people in other parts of the world don’t have.”