I hadn’t seen Mary Alice LeVering for some time. The longtime Elma resident has a sense of humor I’ve especially enjoyed, so it was a delight to see her again at a special occasion I attended last Sunday.
I made my way through a huge throng of people to get to Mary Alice for a hug. Not famous for always saying the right thing, “I haven’t seen you in a hundred years,” I said when I finally reached her. “Well, maybe not quite that long,” I corrected, reminding myself the special occasion I was at was a party celebrating Mary Alice’s 100th birthday.
Pretty in a purple print over-blouse her granddaughter, Rebekah Baker, had given her for the occasion, Mary Alice greeted many dozens of guests Sunday.
Born Feb. 19, 1914, in Pawhuska, Okla., the second of John and Izora (Shantz) Miller’s nine children, Mary Alice has seen myriad changes over her long life.
Five months after her birth, the “Great War” broke out. Now I’m not saying Mary Alice had anything to do with sparking World War I, though I’ve noticed she can be a bit feisty at times. She also lived through the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II and has seen myriad scientific and medical advances and the arrival of the “Information Age.” To her, computers are one of the most significant changes, says Mary Alice, who admits to playing games on them.
When I asked her how it feels to have lived for a whole century, the spunky lady responded, “I don’t really know; I don’t feel like I’ve lived that long.”
Mary Alice grew up in Oklahoma and St. Louis, Mo., graduating from Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Mo., nearly 82 years ago. She worked at her uncle’s St. Louis auto parts business, lived briefly in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area later before returning to St. Louis and taking night bookkeeping classes.
In the early 1940s, Mary Alice came back to the Harbor, living with her family north of Hoquiam. She also met Harbor native Frank LeVering, who became her husband in May 1943.
While he served in the Army during World War II, Mary Alice worked at the F.G. Foster Co. in Hoquiam.
After her “Johnny” came marching home again, the couple lived in Westport, growing lily bulbs to finance a down payment for their first home. Five years later, they were the parents of four daughters and a son.
In 1954, the family moved to Elma, where Mary Alice has lived since. Through the years, she was the first office staff member at McCleary’s new Mark E. Reed Hospital and the first woman timekeeper for the Simpson Timber Co. plant in McCleary. She retired at 62 — to help her husband with his carpet cleaning business.
Besides having birthdays, she’s also had longevity in other ways. Bowling’s been a favorite pastime, and Mary Alice was still knocking the pins down at 99. She’s been inducted into the Grays Harbor Women’s Bowling Hall of Fame.
Some 50 to 60 family members also celebrated her special birthday at a bowling gathering at Elma Lanes the night before the party. Mary Alice was a spectator, but her daughter, Kathy Herrera, says she has a video of her mother bowling on her 99th birthday.
She also played pinochle with fellow card club members for more than half a century. Not afraid to try new things, though, she now likes playing games on her iPad.
Mary Alice has also been a faithful member of Elma’s Grace Community Church — where her party took place — for well over 50 years. She sits near the front “so I can be sure to hear the pastor,” she says. A favorite soft pillow for her back has marked her place there for years.
Mary Alice has also lived through some difficult times. Her husband died in 1997, their son, Frank Jr., in 1998.
“Mom is this person to whom family is everything,” Herrera says. That includes some folks not related by blood, she adds, including 93-year-old Lou Mesmer. The former longtime Grays Harbor College science instructor and son of a couple who were like grandparents to Mary Alice’s children, Mesmer helped celebrate her birthday Sunday.
Besides countless friends, such as Mary Alice’s former Simpson Co. co-worker, Cleo Sheets of Elma, who also was a fellow card club member, family members at the party included her three sisters, four living children, seven of her eight grandchildren (one in New York couldn’t come because of bad weather) and 11 of her 15 great-grandchildren.
When it comes to family, I have nothing to complain of,” Mary Alice says. “They’re taking good care of me now. They make me behave myself,” she laughs.
She claims to have no secret to living so long. “I just think of the good things that happened through my life, and they were mostly all good,” Mary Alice says. “God’s blessed me abundantly all these years.”
Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin is a retired reporter, who still contributes to The Vidette. Contact her by emailing the editor at email@example.com