Rhea Hornyak was just eight years old when she began playing piano for Bethany United Methodist Church in Portage, PA. That was 92 years ago and she’s still tickling the ivories each week during worship.
Hornyak turned 100 on November 29. “I think the secret of a long life is to not worry,” she said. “I made up my mind a long time ago that if I’m going to pray and ask God to help me, then it’s an insult to the Lord to keep worrying. I give it all to the Lord.”
With just one year of formal piano instruction to her credit, Hornyak received a music scholarship to United Methodist-related Otterbein University in Ohio when she graduated high school in 1932. She attended Otterbein for one year and then transferred to Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. She then taught English, music and arts in the Portage School District for 37 years and helped her students learn to write plays and poetry with accompanying music and illustrations.
“We have Summerfest here and frequently someone will stop by and they all mention the poetry that we wrote in our class,” Hornyak said. “It’s very gratifying to instill in someone the love of poetry.”
Hornyak married John Powers in 1940 and together the couple adopted three children. Powers passed away in 1961 and she married Air Force Major Joseph Hornyak in 1972. They were married for seven years when Major Hornyak lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. “When my dad and stepfather died, her faith in the Lord brought her through many trials,” said Joy Powers, Hornyak’s daughter.
Age is not something Hornyak dwells on very much. More active than many people half her age, she’s too busy teaching Sunday school classes and helping with community events. “I have a lot of years, but they’ve gone so rapidly. That number 100 just hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said. “I’ve never paid too much attention to the years as they’ve climbed. But this year I’m amazed. The Lord has really blessed me with good health.”
Hornyak has been blessed not only with good health, but also a very active mind. She can recite scripture from memory and has memorized entire chapters of the Bible.
Born when the First World War was beginning, Hornyak has seen a lot of innovations in her century of living. She loves her iPad, iPhone and computer and can spend hours looking up material for her Sunday School lessons. “I just love this new technology. To me it’s a miracle that I can speak into this iPad and a piece of metal will talk back to me. I thank God every day that I have lived long enough to really enjoy this technology.”
Hornyak’s accomplishments read like a prize-winning award application. By age 12 she was teaching Sunday School and piano lessons, using the money she earned from the piano lessons to pay for her own clothes and help support her family. While in college she designed the home she built with her first husband and still lives in today. After retiring from teaching, she took up cake decorating and went on to teach the craft to others.
Even with all her accomplishments, Hornyak remains humble, crediting her mother with teaching her a strong work ethic and her father with how to make learning fun. Showing her love of God in everything she does is something that comes easily to her. “It’s been so easy for me to live a Christian life,” she said. “If you’re born into a situation where you’re surrounded with church music and church conversation and Christian discussion, it’s very easy to be a Christian. It’s something to be thankful for. I try to convey that to my Sunday school students.”