100 years for a lady of letters

"How does it feel to reach your 100th birthday?“I’m surprised,” said Gladys Bell, who will celebrate a century of living with a gathering of family and friends today, Aug. 27, at Harbor Towers Village in Oak Harbor. “I never dreamed I’d live to be that age.”Bell takes a walk around the corridors of the Harbor Towers buildings every day, with the help of a walker. “I go twice around,” she said. “It’s a mile if you go 10 times.”She’s always had very good health, and still does, she said, “except for my hearing and seeing.”Earlier this year Bell woke up one morning and found she could barely see. The ophthalmologist told her her eyes were just worn out. “I can no longer read and write, two things that I so much enjoy doing,” she said. Always a prolific letter-writer, she was keeping up a correspondence with 20 different people at the time. “I have a world of wonderful friends and relatives,” she said. When she talks about her life, it’s people she speaks of — her daughter and son-in-law Joan and Earle Prater, of Langley; the son who died after being hit by a baseball at the age of 12 in 1937; her three grandchildren and four great grandchildren. “They were all here this summer,” she said. “They are very faithful about coming to see their old grandmother.” The immediate family celebrated her birthday earlier this month. Fourteen relatives from Missouri, Virginia and Seattle visited last week, and others dropped in this week. A memory book filled with dozens of letters from family and friends tells the story of a long, full life that includes 95 years of membership of the Methodist Church, a strong concern for other people, a love of Canasta, and her grief when Jim, her husband of 50 years, died in 1974. Bell, who came to Whidbey Island five years ago to be near her daughter, was born in Illinois, on Aug. 27, 1900. Her family moved to Kansas when she was 6 years old and she lived there for 62 years, until she and her husband retired, in 1968, and moved to California. He was an engineer on the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe railroad, and she worked in the accounting department of a milling and wheat storage company.What’s been the best part of her century?“Well, I had a very wonderful husband, and we had a very wonderful marriage,” she said. “I’ve had a good life and a happy life.”What’s the secret?“Being happy yourself and keeping busy.” "

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