Biography of Freda Bessie (Stoner-Bear) Gastrock: 100 Years Young!
By Tiffany Wilson and Sarah Tsubata
On June 22nd,1920, a beautiful baby girl was born to Calvin and Bessie Stoner, at home, in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania. Named Freda Bessie, she was their second child; older brother Richard had been born in 1917. In 1925, Bruce was born, then in 1937, their youngest, Larry was born.
Growing up in the countryside of Pennsylvania, Freda’s childhood fun was in the outdoors, playing games, or cutting up old Sears catalogs to make paper dolls out of them.
When she was 16, Freda and a girlfriend were visiting the capital city of Harrisburg in the summer and walked into the Capitol building to escape the heat. She saw a handsome young man in a Western Union telegraph uniform: Ronald Gastrock. This began a love story that was to last a lifetime.
Two years later, in 1938, Freda graduated Lemoyne High School, taking her first job at Murphy’s Dime Shop in 1939.
Then, on March 24th, 1940, Freda and Ronald got married and decided to move to Maryland, buying a house in the new development of West Lanham Hills. They moved to lot 13 on Frederick Road, which no other buyers had wanted because 13 is supposedly unlucky.
On May 8th,1941 the Gastrocks were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Patricia Ann. When Ronald was drafted into the military in 1944, during World War II, Freda moved back to Pennsylvania with Patricia, and rented out their home in West Lanham Hills. Freda worked at the McKendree Naval Depot as a cashier—many wives worked in military or manufacturing positions while their husbands were deployed. In 1947, Ronald’s service ended, and the family returned to their home in West Lanham Hills. Ronald worked for the Department of Agriculture in a clerical position.
In 1949, The Gastrocks moved across the street to a bigger house, because Freda was pregnant. On February 25th,1950, their bouncy baby boy was born, Ronald Emerson Gastrock Jr.
Growing up in this neighborhood, Ronald Junior attended West Lanham Hills Elementary through 6th grade. The family attended the West Lanham Hills Baptist Church (at 78th Avenue and Garrison Road).
Freda worked at Kresge’s, a department store, then at Air Products until she retired in 1975. Because she loved to bowl, she joined a senior league at age 55 and continued to bowl into her late 80s!
Freda was very active in her church, which changed names to New Carrollton Woods Baptist Church, then merged to United Baptist Church. She was the financial secretary for 30 years. She helped with community events, and loved to travel. She drove cross country to California, and every year, traveled to Kentucky to visit her grandkids up until 2005.
Freda and Ronald were happily married until his death on December 14th, 2013. During their 73 years of marriage, they were blessed with 2 children, 6 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, 35 great-great grandchildren and 3 great-great-great grandchildren—a total of 66 descendants today!
Freda’s parents and her brothers Bruce and Richard have passed, but her brother Larry is still living.
In 2016, West Lanham Hills celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a parade, and big party at the Park Building. Freda Gastrock, then 96, was honored as the oldest neighbor living in West Lanham Hills. On June 22nd, 2020, Freda attains the century mark—100 years of age—which will be celebrated “social distancing” style with neighbors driving by to send her our congratulations and best wishes.
Freda said she has been blessed with a great life and she had the most loving husband. She also said she always has--and always will--love her home in West Lanham Hills.