Marian Snyder turned 102 years old on Aug. 21 and though she is still physically healthy and mentally sharp, she doesn’t have a secret to share.
“Good genes I guess from my mother who lived to be in her 90s, which was an adventure because back then people didn’t really live that long,” Snyder said, while sitting in a sunny spot in the Rancho Santa Fe house she shares with her son Martin Buncher, himself a spry 75-year-old, surrounded by some of the beautiful paintings and sculptures she’s been working on since she was a young girl growing up in Pittsburgh.
“I just eat normally and do the best I can,” added Snyder, who said she never smoked, hardly drank and has always loved to dance.
She received congratulatory letters from Vice President Joe Biden and Oprah Winfrey upon turning 102.
The genes have certainly helped, but Buncher has a theory of his own as to his mom’s longevity.
“We have family, like people dream about having family. There was always a family tie,” said Buncher, who noted that all of the living relatives came to Rancho Santa Fe from all over the country to celebrate Marian’s 100th birthday in 2014.
After immigrating from Russia and Poland before World War I, Snyder’s family started a jewelry business in Pittsburgh. It was there that a teenaged Marian met Albert Buncher and, when they got old enough, she 21 and he 22, they got married. Marian was a good enough artist by that time to earn a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon School of Art.
The couple had three children: Martin, who still works as a psychologist, Les Buncher, now 78 and a retired OBGYN, and Linda Welsh, a well-known clinical psychologist in Philadelphia who is now 72. Marian has five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren and has survived her two younger siblings.
A successful businessman, Albert Buncher, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 44, just a few years before bypass surgery was popularized. After Buncher died, his brother cut her out from a successful steel business and she ventured to New York to work for M. Lowenstein cotton converters as a stylist.
She lived there for nearly 10 years — at one point living in Zsa Zsa Gabor’s old apartment complete with a circle bed and Gabor’s mother, Jolie, living a floor above her — before marrying her second husband, Benjamin Snyder, and moving to Philadelphia. Snyder manufactured steel tubing and owned the Buck County Playhouse in Pennsylvania, which saw early performances from stars such as Dick Van Dyke and Robert Redford, among others.
The two traveled around the world, from Europe to Asia — Rome and Florence were her favorites and the Snyders were early travelers to Hong Kong — and eventually, in 1972, moved to Southern California, joining her two sons who had already moved to the La Costa area.
“What’s not to like (about this area), it’s heaven on earth,” Marian said.
In Southern California, Marian’s star-crossed life continued, whether it was her good friend Vic Damone — who she met in Puerto Rico before running into him just three days later in La Costa — singing her the song “Make Someone Happy” over the phone just after it was first recorded; or being the buffer at a dinner with Victor Mature and William Holden as a favor to Mature’s ex-wife who was then dating Holden; or being mistaken for Phyllis Diller by one of Diller’s best friends leading to a “career” as a Diller lookalike at parties; to dinners at Desi Arnaz’s house.
“I always seem to have luck in falling into these situations. I’ve had ups and downs, but let’s just talk about the ups,” she said.
In her later years, Marian converted her La Costa garage into a studio, where she taught art to neighboring housewives, who were soon joining a waiting list to get instruction from her. Her students went on to sell pieces for more than $20,000. Snyder has also used her skills to sculpt and paint portraits of nearly everyone she knew.
Marian can’t sculpt or paint anymore — though she did portraits into her 90s — but she’s built up enough of a portfolio to fill a museum. Those works, plus about eight dogs, a couple of cats, horses, an emu, two tortoises and dozens of adopted birds live alongside her at Martin’s Rancho Santa Fe property.