On October 15, the lifelong Yardley Borough resident marked her 74th year as a charter member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6393 Auxiliary. She also turned 98 in April, making it a double celebration.
Sirens and car horns split the quiet tree-lined neighborhood as the Yardley Borough Police Department led the parade of vehicles west on College Avenue and then down Lookover Lane.
Arata enjoyed an unobstructed view from her porch overlooking College Avenue as she watched the parade of vehicles, some decorated with American flags and others with congratulatory messages, pass by.
Gathered on the nearby sidewalks were friends and acquaintances from the close-knit Lookover Lane neighborhood who waved American flags, cheered and held homemade congratulatory signs.
The parade concluded with a Yardley-Makefield fire engine sounding its horn in honor of this very special lady who has devoted a large portion of her life giving back to veterans.
Arata was one of 11 children born and raised on Reading Avenue in Yardley by John and Agnes Rupprecht.
Mary and Russell, her husband of 65 years and a deceased US Navy Veteran, raised six children in Yardley Borough, close to the house where Mary was raised. Today, Mary has 14 grandchildren and 15 great- grandchildren.
“Once we get past the pandemic, I’d like to take you on a tour of the senate and I’m sure State Rep. Perry Warren would do the same for you in the House,” said Santarsiero.
Auxiliary Vice President Linda Albano also presented Arata with a proclamation from Yardley Borough Mayor Chris Harding recognizing her service to the auxiliary and her birthday milestone.
“Thank you very much,” responded Arata, who was clearly moved by the outpouring of people. “This is amazing. I can’t believe it.,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s so many people here. It’s unbelievable.”
Among them were many of her auxiliary friends who presented her with a gift and a special sign honoring her as their hero.
“She’s an incredible lady,” said auxiliary member Linda Albano, who helped organize the celebration. “She’s always pleasant. She’s been going to meetings for years up to February. The fact that she’s 97 is incredible by itself. But then you think that she’s been a charter member of the auxiliary for 74 years. That’s incredible. And it speaks to her dedication to the veterans.
“I did some research and found 55 years of records,” added Albano. “Mary was an officer for at least 26 of those that I could find. She served as President, treasurer and conductor and a minimum of 17 years as chaplain. I’m just in awe of the lady. She’s just incredible.”
Arata said she joined the auxiliary nearly three quarters of a century ago as a charter member “to honor the veterans, and especially my brother - William Rupprecht - who was killed in Belgium during World War II.”
Rupprecht was serving as a technical sergeant with the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division of the US Army when he was killed in action on November 25, 1944. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Marksmanship Badge, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Army Presidential Unit Citation and the Army Good Conduct Medal.
For more than 100 years, the VFW Auxiliary has been fulfilling its original objectives by supporting the Veterans of Foreign Wars, serving veterans, service members and their families, and spreading patriotism nationwide.
Members like Mary have volunteered millions of hours, donated millions of dollars and honored hundreds of thousands of veterans.
The celebration concluded with the singing of “God Bless America” led by AJ Winger.
“We call Mary our hero because at 98 she’s still doing things we have trouble doing,” said auxiliary member and friend Marge Tignor. “She still does activities. She comes to meetings. She does road cleanups. She still walks the golf course. We call her our hero because we want to be just like her when we’re her age.”
Mary is an active member of the Yardley-Makefield VFW Auxiliary and regularly attended monthly Auxiliary Meeting prior to the pandemic. Over the years Mary has held many positions with the Auxiliary, including President and Chaplain.
Throughout the years and until recently, Mary has participated in Yardley's Memorial Day and Veteran's Day parades, the Auxiliary's Road Clean Up (Adopt a Highway program) and placing Flags and Auxiliary Grave Markers at the local cemeteries.
While Mary has been forced to stay home due to the virus, her dedication has remained unflappable.
Since March, she has been making quilted wheelchair blankets for the Veterans at Neshaminy Manor Nursing Home, making her “truly an amazing woman.”
The 12 quilted blankets decorated her porch railing on Saturday as US Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick joined State Senator Steve Santarsiero and State Rep. Perry Warren on the lawn in front of Arata’s house to present her with flags flown over the US Capitol and the state Capitol and citations marking her dual celebration.