Centenarian receives special birthday gift

Heritage Place resident turns 103

Fern Elam was presented with 103 multicolored roses Wednesday during a birthday party her daughter, Verda Benson, threw for her at Heritage Place in Soldotna.


But Elam’s main birthday wish came true recently when she, with assistance, rode a horse at Ridgeway Farms.

“Who is to say no to anyone at this age,” Benson said with a chuckle.

Benson said Elam had asked a Heritage Place nurse a few weeks prior to her birthday if the wish was possible.

“(Elam) said, ‘I would just love to go on a horseback ride again’,” Benson said.

Elam, the oldest resident at Heritage Place, said the event made her remember the horses on her father’s farm in Kansas.

“It seemed like old times,” Elam said, while sitting in her room decorated with photographs of her family — three children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Benson said her mother was on the saddled horse for about ten minutes, and several photographs were taken. After each ride around the ring, she would ask for one more time around.

“She had a smile from ear to ear,” Benson said.

Her father had six horses, Elam recalled and she would often go out into the pasture before school to get them.

Elam, who was the second child of 13 children, remembers a time before cars. She said when the weather was too bad, her father would take the children to school in the horse-drawn buggy. Her family grew and dried all their food, only purchasing flour and sugar at the local mercantile.

Benson said she was not surprised when her mother shared her special birthday wish. As 90, Elam asked for a motorcycle ride, and she got it.

“She hasn’t asked for anything since,” Benson said.

Elam has a map with tacks tracking the 74 destinations this year’s birthday cards came from, as well as greetings from five foreign countries, including England, China, France, Switzerland and Canada and a card from President Barack Obama.

According to the 2011 data from the Division of Permanent Fund Dividend, there are at least 61 centenarians, persons who are 100 years and older, in Alaska.

While Elam is the eldest resident of Heritage Place, she keeps busy with several daily tasks. Every morning she does 20 minutes of exercise, then she wheels herself, mostly with the use of her feet, down to the desk where she helps decorate bulletin boards, cares for her tomato plant, shreds papers and delivers newspapers to the Alzheimer’s unit. She is also the treasurer of the Heritage’s annual garage sale held this month.

When Benson visits weekly, the two sit and put together several large piece puzzles.

Gina Parrish, a Heritage Place administrative assistant, said Elam is very helpful.

“She helps with general things in the office,” Parrish said. “She is a goer.”

Elam agrees that she is not one to sit idle.

“I like to keep busy,” she said.

In the past she also was a foster grandparent at Mountain View Elementary. Elam fondly remembers her time reading with the children.

Elam has seen so much in her 103 years, and said she believes keeping a routine has made all the difference.

“Everyday I just get up and do what I am suppose to do,” she said with a smile.

Benson said two of Elam’s siblings are also centenarians and said she partly attributes it genetics.

After 103 birthdays, Elam is still going strong and loving life.

“We have really been truly blessed to have her in our lives,” Benson said.

Reach Sara Hardan at sara.hardan@peninsulaclarion.com.