At almost 91 years old, Zelma Koontz works at Jo-Ann Fabrics up to 26 hours a week and thinks nothing of standing on a countertop to retrieve a bolt of fabric.
Koontz drives her 2004 Buick Century to and from work as a fabric cutter at Frederick County Square Shopping Center on the Golden Mile.
She lives in a single home in a Frederick retirement community and takes no medication for any health conditions.
"I do all my cleaning and cooking and have to climb a ladder to clean the windows," she said. "I have a 3-foot space all around the house for my flowers and vegetables."
Koontz was retired for two years when she saw an ad in the store window more than 20 years ago. "I thought I would work six months and see how difficult it was," she said.
Koontz has worked at Jo-Ann ever since, though she has quit a couple times, she said.
Sewing customers ask Koontz for advice.
"Some customers don't know anything about sewing, and we (store employees) advise them to take sewing classes at the store," Koontz said.
"If the customers know what they're doing, they ask me for color suggestions, what colors go together; and they ask for the right fabric to use with the garment they're making."
Koontz cuts what's needed from the fabric bolts, and she cuts anywhere from three to 20 yards and folds up the fabric for the customer.
If the bolts are on the top shelf, Koontz takes a wide, three-step ladder to reach them. If the bolt is near the counter, she takes the ladder and steps on the counter to reach it.
Koontz's supervisor, Roxanne Hurst, said that her best qualities are her energy and that she does everything the right way.
"She likes things organized and neat. Customers say she's great because she knows what she's doing," Hurst said.
"Zelma cuts hundreds of yards of fabric a day, and cutters don't sit," said customer Judy Legg.
"Customers gravitate toward Zelma. If you're having a rough day, you can talk to her. She is optimistic, has amazing eye contact and listens to you. She doesn't really give advice; she lets you talk it all out," Legg said.
Koontz has been sewing and quilting since she was a girl on her family's 100-acre farm in Unionville, near Libertytown. Koontz was the eighth child out of six boys and four girls.
Koontz's mother taught her to sew and quilt -- she prefers quilting.
She quilts by hand and sews by machine.
Koontz embroiders the patches that are put together to form the quilt, and she creates her own designs.
As for sewing, she said the machines are fantastic. "It's tough to sew a button; the machine does just about all the work for you."
Koontz worked at Springfield Hospital Center for 25 years as a licensed practical nurse. She also filled in at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, near Baltimore.
"I'd work the 2:30 to 11 p.m. shift at Springfield, and half the time I would drive to Spring Grove and work the 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift," Koontz said.
"I've worked two jobs most of my life. Even on the farm, I would work evenings as a waitress," she said. "That's why I never know when to quit."