Mary (Diehl) Sturman loves to make people laugh, and she’s been very successful at doing it for most of her 97 years. 

“I lived with my grandparents when I was a child and went to a one-room schoolhouse,” Sturman recalls. 

“We had programs there every year, and I always tried to make people laugh. Most of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, and my grandfather taught me to sing in Pennsylvania Dutch, so I would do silly songs and everyone just loved it.”

But not everyone was such a big fan. Her first husband, who was the father of her children and whom she sadly lost at a young age, didn’t really like it when Sturman told jokes or did her comedic routines — for a very sweet reason. 

“He said he didn’t like people laughing at me,” she said. “But I told him if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be very good at it, would I?” 

Her second husband, who passed in 2015 after 40 years of marriage, was of a different mindset. 

“He liked it; he thought I was very funny,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor.”

In addition to her extensive repertoire of jokes, Sturman has often delighted audiences as her self-created character, Mrs. Nutzelbaum, an “old Pennsylvania Dutch lady who told funny stories and sang songs,” she said. “Don’t ask me where I came up with that name, though. I probably heard it somewhere along the way.” 

She was often asked to perform at various fundraisers and other community events and continues to charm her friends and neighbors by sharing jokes in her apartment building in York, where she still lives independently.

“People will come up to me and say, ‘Mary, do you have any new jokes?’ and I always try to share one that they haven’t already heard,” she said. “I joke about everything, remembering stories from my childhood that were funny, and I like to share that with people.” 

One incident in particular that Sturman remembers clearly was when she went with her grandfather, to the dismay of her grandmother, to help take down some trees along his property line — using dynamite.

“I was there, and he put in the dynamite, and he starts yelling, ‘Schprengedupa!’ And of course I didn’t understand Pennsylvania Dutch very well, so I yelled to my grandmother, ‘What does that mean?’ And she yelled back, ‘It means run — quick!’”

Still active at 97, Sturman enjoys playing Scrabble, walking a mile every day, and using her electronic tablet, on which she is pretty skilled, she said.

But she especially enjoys spending time laughing with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who she feels lucky to see often. 

“It’s important to see the funny side of things and to keep laughter in your life,” she said. “It really is the best medicine.”

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