EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in our twice-monthly series “Life Stories,” profiles of everyday people who lend us insight into life and times in Mercer County.

COMPARED with Ed and Mildred (Marsteller) Hoagland of Hermitage, almost everyone in Mercer County is a newcomer to this area – actually, to this country. Their ancestors arrived in America before the United States was a country. And they played significant parts in its early history.

Mildred is the fifth great-granddaughter of Frederick Marsteller, who came to settle in Montgomery County in 1729. His son, Philip Marsteller, was a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776, which adopted the state’s constitution. He was active in raising troops for George Washington’s army. During the Revolutionary War, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel as quartermaster of the army. He became a good friend of Washington. There are letters from Washington to Marsteller preserved in the Library of Congress. He was one of six honorary pall bearers at Washington’s funeral. The only non-Mason among them, he was included at Martha Washington’s special request.

Col. Marsteller settled in Alexandria, Va., where he as mayor and member of the fire department, the militia and the church. He was a successful auctioneer who accumulated a lot of valuable furniture, silverware, firearms and other items.

Early in the 19th century, some of Philip’s descendents moved to Mercer County. “The Twentieth Century History of Mercer County” mentions that Mount Hope Church was organized at the home of George Marsteller in New Vernon Township in 1851.

While the Marstellers were serving the country in the East, the Hoaglands were settling the West, which at that time was western Virginia, western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Capt. John Hoagland, who lived with his family in Berkley, Va., now West Virginia, was killed near Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1782 while on a military campaign against the Wyandot Indians.

One of John’s sons, Henry, came to Mercer County in 1797, and bought land north of Sharon where the police firing range is. He brought his wife and four sons here the following year.

As true pioneers, they were leaders in the development of virtually all aspects of the area – military, religious, business and educational. Henry joined the local militia when it was formed in 1800 and rose to the rank of colonel. He helped build one of the first schools in the area on his own land about 1802. He was an elder in the Baptist Church, and was instrumental in establishing the first Baptist society in Sharon. About 1804, he built a log church where the First Baptist Church is still located, near the corner of State Street and Irvine Avenue.

A couple of years later, he built a dam and sawmill on Hoagland’s Run. Henry’s son Richard rebuilt it in 1833 and continued to operate it until 1864. Another son, John, was postmaster at Hermitage for 26 years.

Henry served as a sergeant in the U.S. military during the War of 1812, contributing to Adm. Perry’s successes on Lake Erie.

The descendents of Col. Henry Hoagland have continued to live and work in Mercer County for more than 200 years. Ed Hoagland is Henry’s great-great-great grandson.

Both Ed and Mildred are beneficiaries of their family heritage, though not in terms of financial wealth.

“If there was money in our families,” Ed mused, “we have no idea where it went. We haven’t seen any of it.”

But both Ed and Mildred have inherited something from their ancestors that is far more valuable. Like their pioneering ancestors, they quietly share a combination of courage, determination, and commitment to overcome difficulties and serve their family, church, community and country.

Mildred was born in 1924 in Wheatland. She met Ed when she was 13 years old in the youth group of the Farrell Methodist Church .

“I told my father that I just met the one I’m going to marry,” she said.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Mildred started working as a secretary at Westinghouse.

Ed enlisted in the Navy before graduating from high school in 1943. On his 18th birthday, May 15, 1943, he was on his way. He was soon serving on the USS Alshain, a ship designed to haul Sherman tanks and landing craft.

The cargo on his first sailing was something quite different.

“We hauled 450,000 cases of Ballantine Beer to Pearl Harbor,” he said.

It wasn’t long, however, before the ship was loaded with tanks and landing craft and on its way to support the invasion of Guam. When they arrived there, they couldn’t offload the tanks for a week because of the weather.

“We were anchored about a half mile off shore,” Ed said. “We didn’t dare try unloading because of the rough seas. A Sherman tank weighed 28 tons. You get them up in the air with a crane, and if they start swaying there’s no telling what would happen.”

They ended up being the last ship of the invasion fleet to leave Guam.

Ed’s military service was shortened when he contracted ulcerative colitis, a severely debilitating disease for which there was no cure. The doctors at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia told him he would not live more than 15 years – in other words, not past 1960. He was discharged from the service in 1945 with a 100 percent disability pension.

His illness didn’t prevent Mildred’s prediction from coming true. They were married on Dec. 21, 1946, in the Farrell Methodist Church.

Ed and Mildred moved to State College, where Ed studied electrical engineering at Penn State. Mildred’s secretarial experience landed her a job as secretary to the university’s Dean of Home Economics.

“That was a long time ago – way back when Paterno was an assistant coach,” Ed said.

Ed stayed two years at Penn State before deciding he was more interested in television electronics. The couple moved to Chicago, where Ed studied with Lee Deforest, the inventor of the vacuum tube. Again Mildred worked as secretary, this time for Allied Van Lines.

After coming back to the Shenango Valley, Ed worked for Willson’s Furniture until the opportunity arose for him to have his own TV business. Willson’s decided to sell their TV department, so Ed and a friend, Joseph Marshall, got a loan from the First National Bank and opened Homar TV. They paid off the loan in just six weeks.

In the late 1950s, the military doctors’ prediction about Ed’s life expectancy nearly came true. His ulcerative colitis became so bad that his weight dropped to 89 pounds. He credits a doctor at the VA hospital in Erie with saving his life.

“His name was Dr. Garcia,” he said. “I don’t remember his first name. Come to find out later he used to be the doctor for Castro in Cuba. He was terrific.”

In 1958 Mildred went back to work, this time as caseworker for the Mercer County Red Cross. By 1964, Ed had undergone 15 surgeries and had to close his TV business. He was off work for about four years. In 1967 or so he took some aptitude tests with the Veterans Administration. They determined he should be either an undertaker or an accountant.

“I thought being an accountant would be better than being an undertaker,” Ed said.

He ended up being neither. There was an opening for the position of Mercer County Director of Veterans Affairs, and Ed was hired. He remained in that job until he retired in 1982.

Despite undergoing a total of 35 surgeries for his ulcerative colitis, Ed has been an amazing public servant, not only in his position in the VA office, but also in many service organizations. He has been an active member of the American Legion for years and has held many offices in the Masons, including Pennsylvania Grand Master and President of the County Directors. At the East Side Church in Sharon, he has served as a member of the board of trustees, Sunday school superintendent, and moderator. He remains in his post as chairman of the board of Meals on Wheels, which he has held for many years, and he still delivers meals at least once a week.

Mildred continued working for the Red Cross until she retired in 1987. She does volunteer work for the Red Cross whenever she is needed. She has been a volunteer at Sharon Regional Health System, and was Volunteer of the Year in 2002. She was president of the American Legion Auxiliary for a record 10 consecutive years, and was head of 8/40, a Legion Auxiliary’s subsidiary organization dedicated to helping children with yuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, lung and other respiratory diseases. She has been active in the Order of the Eastern Star. She also is a volunteer for Meals and Wheels, delivering meals every Friday.

Ed and Mildred have accomplished all of this while raising four children: Edward, (born in 1949), Donna Mae (1951), Robert (1954), and Melissa Lyn (1968).

Ed and Mildred are proud of the accomplishments of their ancestors. You can be sure that their ancestors would be equally proud of Ed’s and Mildred’s.

Joe Zentis is a freelance writer from Hermitage. Contact him with suggestions for Life Stories at: joezentis@verizon.net or call 724-347-1209.

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