When Elma Mankin was born in Herndon in 1924, there likely were more cows than people, and certainly more horses than there were cars.
“My father, William Henry Moffett, was a sixth-generation blacksmith who made horseshoes, repaired farm equipment for all the local dairy farmers and made metal rims for wooden wagon wheels,” she said. “There was a major fire in Herndon in 1917 and his blacksmith shop was the last business to burn down and the first one to be rebuilt. He worked in the new shop until he retired in 1955. It was later moved and is still used today in Frying Pan Farm Park.”
On Aug. 26, Mankin’s 90th birthday, friends and members of the Herndon Women’s Club threw her a surprise birthday party at the residence of Roger and Debbie Hill in Herndon. “Normally we don’t mention a woman’s age, but at 90, we should celebrate,” said Women’s Club President Pat Stark.
“I was very surprised,” said Mankin after more than 50 people jumped out, shouting ‘Happy Birthday!’
“They told me that a few friends were taking me to Clydes, which would have been great, but this is even nicer,” Mankin said.
Mankin has never moved away from her hometown of Herndon, a place she has spent many, many hours working to benefit. Her childhood home, built in 1897, surprisingly still stands on Van Buren Street, albeit now owned by another family.
She is considered by many to be an icon of Herndon, belonging to several local organizations for longer than other members have even been alive.
“She has been a member of the Herndon Woman’s Club for 65 years, since 1949,” said Debbie Hill. Hill’s grandmother, Jean Franklin, helped to found the club only ten years earlier, in 1939. Debbie’s father, Jim Franklin, owned the land where the Franklin Farm subdivision sits today.
“My father often worked on Jim Franklin’s farm,” Mankin remembered.
Mankin said she remembers many aspects of early life in Herndon.
For example, she remembers that going to school in the 1930s with no cafeteria or refrigeration, every day lunch was hit or miss. “Kids went to school at the high school on Locust Street from kindergarten to 12th grade,” she said. “We would bring a sandwich to school — usually cheese or peanut butter and jelly — and teachers would put it on a shelf or in a closet for us. When lunchtime came around, you hoped yours was still there. Although there was no cafeteria, there was a soup kitchen. If you remembered to bring a bowl and a spoon with you to school, you could have some soup with your sandwich.”
Mankin graduated at age 16 and immediately began working at the high school as its first secretary.
She served there for five years before having two daughters and starting a family.
“People who are in their mid- and late sixties still come up to Elma and tell her that they remember her from when they were students there,” said Roger Hill. “That still amazes me every time.”
“Herndon was still very much a small town then,” Mankin recalled. “I distinctly remember that there were exactly 1,960 town residents recorded in the 1960 census. We all got a kick out of that.”
When Herndon Elementary School was built in 1961, Mankin also became its first secretary, a position she held for 25 years.“Women had just begun wearing slacks to work then,” she recalled. “It was controversial, and of course so was segregation, which thankfully at Herndon Elementary School ended with limited fuss.”
After retiring in 1986, Mankin decided to go to college. She received her associate degree in fine arts from Northern Virginia Community College, graduating in 1989, summa cum laude. “I thought I had a little talent and wanted to see if it was true,” she said. “I enjoyed painting in watercolors, acrylics and oils.”
Mankin is involved with the Herndon Historical Society, the Herndon Women’s Club, Reston Hospital, Herndon United Methodist Church, the Council for the Arts in Herndon, and many other local organizations. Her whole life, Mankin has pursued her passions, foremost of them volunteering, according to the Herndon Town Council, who officially proclaimed Aug. 26, 2014, as Elma Mankin Day in the Town of Herndon.
Mankin’s 90th birthday, and her volunteer efforts, also have garnered statewide attention.
“She has spent countless hours volunteering at many Herndon historical sites and has given over 4,500 hours of her time to Reston Hospital, assisting in the rehabilitation center since 1990. She also received the Dr. Frist Humanitarian Award in 1996 and the Herndon Mayor’s Distinguished Service Award in 1997, and was the Herndon Rotary Club Citizen of the Year in 2001, where she was crowned ‘Queen of Herndon,’” reads Virginia House of Delegates resolution 177, which was passed earlier this year to commemorate Mankin’s 90th birthday.
“I recall bestowing on her that very appropriate title,” said Virginia Del. Tom Rust (R-Dist. 86), who was Herndon’s mayor in 2001. “Elma has been a wonderful friend and a wonderful citizen in Herndon who has contributed in so many ways.”
Mankin says she will continue to volunteer and do her best every day to serve Herndon, her home of 90 years so far.
“I like being around people and making people laugh, and I try to do something meaningful and to have fun every day,” she said. “If everyone else is still up for it, I will certainly enjoy another party like this in 10 years.”