A century to remember: 2 ladies celebrate

Posted: Monday, September 06, 2010

Two Soldotna women are hitting the century mark this week and celebrating in their own special ways with their family beside them.

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Fern Elam wears purple to celebrate her 100th birthday Saturday at Heritage Place in Soldotna. Hawaiian dancers, a band and cake were all part of the festivities.

Fern Elam turned 100 on Saturday with a party in Soldotna. Wilma Ellington will officially become a centenarian Wednesday, but celebrated Sunday.

Keeping busy

Verda Benson doesn't ask her mother what she wants for her birthday anymore.

The last time the Kenai resident asked her mother, Fern Elam, about her birthday wishes, Elam said she wanted to ride on a motorcycle, Benson said.

Elam got her ride on the chopper but had Benson scared sky diving was next. So Benson decided to stop asking her mother about birthday presents.

Now after celebrating 100 birthdays, Elam has little left to desire.

"I hadn't thought about anything special," she said at her daughter's Kalifornsky Beach Road home on Friday. "I'm glad all of my children came home."

This year Elam celebrated being a centenarian with her family and friends Saturday at a party at Heritage Place, where she lives in Soldotna. Balloons, a band, Hawaiian dancers and cake were all part of the festivities.

But perhaps the most exciting part of her birthday this year was receiving some 100 cards from across the United States and the world.

"When she was 90 we tried to get cards from all 50 states," said Benson of the special surprise for her mother's 90th birthday. "She loves to get mail."

So Benson decided to try it again for her mother's 100th birthday. She asked friends across the United States to send cards to her mother.

In her room at the nursing home, cards decorate Elam's walls and cupboards. A map of the United States is dotted with pins from where she's received birthday wishes. This year she even got cards from Africa, China and England, Benson said.

"Sometimes we have to go home and look on the computer because we didn't know what city it came from," Benson said.

Elam said she even got one that was addressed "to the 100-year-old lady."

"I don't know who sent that one," she said.

For a 100-year-old lady, though, Elam is rather energetic.

"I like to keep busy," said the former nurse and foster grandparent in the school system.  

She said she exercises for 20 minutes on the treadmill nearly every day and likes to do arm and leg aerobics.

"I think that helps me," Elam said.

She also embroiders, puts puzzles together and likes to do word finds.

"She just doesn't sit around idle," said Anne Larson, an activities aide at Heritage Place.

"I've never known a day she doesn't have a smile on her face and she doesn't work," said Sandy Taylor, Elam's friend and fellow nursing home resident.

Longevity runs in Elam's family. As the second oldest of 14 children raised in Colorado, she has 11 siblings still living.

But Benson thinks there's another trait, besides keeping her mind and body busy, that has kept Elam going.

"Is that your stubbornness?" Benson jokingly asked her mother. She said three years ago Elam's pacemaker quit but she did not want to go to Anchorage to change the battery.

"They didn't think she'd last a month," Benson said.

And pacemaker or not, Elam said she doesn't feel any older.

"I don't notice if I feel any different than I did several months ago," she said.

She's her same spunky, busy self, but now she gets to join the 100 club.

"I've had a good life I think," she said. "I sure never thought I'd live this long."

Staying sweet

Wilma Ellington said turning 100 doesn't feel any different than being 99.

"I can't possibly be that old, but my birth certificate says I am," she said with a smile.

The playful matriarch had all sorts of family visiting her this week from all across the United States to help celebrate her big day Sunday at the Birch Ridge Golf Course, which is co-owned by her daughter Myrna Cowan.

While Ellington might not notice a difference in her age, the big difference she notices is in how times have changed since she was younger.

"It's just like day and night from the time I was born until now," she said. "So much progress and equipment. In early days we had a horse and buggy."

"There's been so much change in my life," Ellington added. "I should have written a book, I guess."

But instead of writing books Ellington loves to read them, like novels by Danielle Steele and histories of Alaska.

As a favorite pastime, she reads stories on her digital book, an Amazon Kindle.

"The books are so heavy they made me so tired holding them," she said.

She also loves to read the newspaper, which she does every day before fixing breakfast for her family and doing the dishes.

"I can still load the dishwasher," Ellington said.

Ellington, who used to be a bookkeeper in between raising her children near a Colorado train depot, said she also likes watching sports on TV.

"I'm glad football is coming back, gives me something to look forward too," she said. "I like NASCAR too. That's really exciting."

As a birthday present she received a signed ball from her favorite NFL team, the Denver Broncos, said her daughter, Velda Hadley, who came up to celebrate from Craig, Colo.

But that doesn't compare with her favorite birthday gift, which was some 20 years ago when she got to go on the field at a Broncos game.

"I went when (Hall of Fame quarterback John) Elway was still there," she said.

"When she was on the field she said, 'I'm not going to die until you win a Super Bowl,' and they've won two," Hadley said.

According to her daughters, the secret to her longevity has to do with her delightful disposition.

"She's always laughing. She thinks everything is funny," said Neoma Ellington, her daughter-in-law who lives in Canada.

"She just has such a sweet, wonderful attitude," Cowan said. "I think it's wonderful that I may have longevity as well."

For her birthday celebration Sunday, some 100 people were slated to attend, with 30 from out of state.

Hadley said they were asking people to bring 100 of something to the party.

"Toothpicks, beans, $100 bills, anything," Hadley said.

Hadley said Ellington has 104 descendents, including her six children, 26 grandchildren, 64 great-grandchildren and nine great-great grandchildren.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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