A Life: Marge Smith ‘always looked marvelous’

  • The holiday season got underway at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 8, 1967, as Marge Smith, then known as Marge Andresen, balances atop a 30-foot ladder to put the final touches on the 18-foot wreath hung in the Top of the Hop by the Friends of Hopkins Center. (Valley News - Larry McDonald) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Larry McDonald

  • Marge Smith and her dog Dolly in an undated photograph. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2019 9:45:30 PM
Modified: 12/15/2019 9:45:28 PM

LEBANON — While she answered to three different surnames during her 60-plus years in the Upper Valley — Andresen in Hanover, Redden in South Strafford, Smith in Lebanon — everyone knew her as Marge.

And few with whom the Virginia-born, Baltimore-raised former Margaret Wright crossed paths knew anyone quite like the mom, dog-whisperer, nurse, athlete and volunteer who sashayed in style through her 93 years.

Just ask Beth Preston, with whom the then-Marge Redden served on the Strafford FAST Squad in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I remember her coming to middle-of-the-night calls with a long, dressy coat over her nightgown or her pajamas and with her hair looking like she had just put it up for a party,” Preston said last week. “You’d look at her sometimes like she was a little off her rocker, but she knew her advanced first-aid hands-down and had lots of common sense.

“She certainly had a brain.”

Smith, who died on Sept. 29, also had two grown children from her first marriage to cardiologist Donald Andresen, and what her daughter Karen Andresen describes as “a very large network of friends in a variety of places.” That network widened in abundance long before and well after her four grandchildren — Karen’s two and son Christian’s two — 11 stepchildren and five great-grandchildren came into her life.

“Karen and I grew up together, so I knew her mom basically my whole life,” Shelley Cunningham Hochreiter recalled last week. “When we were growing up, Rip Road was called Pill Hill because there were so many doctors in the neighborhood.”

There weren’t many Marges.

“She was not your classic 1950s stay-at-home mom,” said Hochreitier, a 1969 graduate of Hanover High now living in Etna. “I remember her walking her large dogs — she had Newfoundlands for a while, and at one point, she had a very big Standard poodle — along the road near our house. And she was very athletically inclined, skiing and playing tennis and teaching both sports. At the same time, you would run into her in her sweaty tennis whites, but her hair and her makeup were always perfect.”

As they were while she worked as a school nurse during her kids’ formative years and during the decade-plus at the Dick’s House infirmary for Dartmouth College students and staff.

“She was always elegantly overdressed,” said Jack Turco, who joined the college health service in the late 1970s and directed it from 1984 to 2014. “You could never tell if she was coming or going to a big party or a fancy ball or something. She always looked marvelous.”

And, Turco added, she always “had great instincts about caring for Dartmouth students. She knew where they were coming from, in terms of what was going on in their lives, what was bothering them. She also had a great memory of the history of Dartmouth and of Mary Hitchcock Hospital. She knew how the Hall family, who founded Dick’s House in memory of their son, wanted to build a home away from home for Dartmouth students. With her institutional memory, she epitomized being able to make it feel like a home.”

Her own home had shifted from Pill Hill to South Strafford, where her second husband, Herman Redden, a devoted bird-watcher, had retired from a marketing career at New Jersey Bell.

“She and Herm were important in town as far as involvement in the community,” Preston said. “Besides her time on the FAST Squad, Herm managed the firemen’s barbecue for many years, and Marge was the ticket seller. She always had a garden-party hat on, and was always dressed up.”

When Redden’s health started to decline, the couple relocated to the Pinewood Village condominium complex. And a couple of years after Redden’s death, in 1997, Marge married Justin Smith, former executive director of the Hitchcock Clinic.

“She knew him from the same social circuit where she’d met Herman,” Karen Andresen recalled. “Justin was actually in the running for husband No. 2 before Herman came along.”

Over Smith’s final decade, during most of which the couple lived at the Harvest Hill assisted-living complex in Lebanon, Marge remained a devoted parishioner of St. Denis Church in Hanover and volunteered at Hanover’s Howe Library and at the gift shop at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. And she stuck with those obligations for several years following Justin Smith’s death in 2009, even after reluctantly surrendering her car keys.

“Working at the Pink Smock was really big for her,” Karen Andresen said.

So were Marge’s continuing parade of ever-smaller dogs and the circle of mature woman friends who called themselves the Orford Boat Club.

“One of the last times I saw her was at Harvest Hill, where I was bringing her a key for a place where the boat club was getting together,” Shelley Hochreiter said. “I saw her dog at the time, Dolly. And she was still wearing these little high heels, hair just right, makeup just right.”

With a little help from the staff of the memory-care unit at Harvest Hill, Marge Smith maintained those standards even after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in the fall 2018.

“They kept her hair brushed just so,” Karen Andresen said. “And she was always wearing something spiffy from her wardrobe.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

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