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Happy 105th birthday

"Bertha Steen doesn't look a day older than 90.But Steen passed that landmark 15 years ago - back when Reagan was in office and before her teenage great-granddaughter was born.She celebrated her 105th birthday Thursday at a crowded, lively party at her Northgate home, where she still lives by herself. The small woman spoke honestly with guests about what it's like to be more than a century old - lonely sometimes - but she also knows how to liven things up with a dirty joke.I couldn't believe she said that. She's 105 years old, Steen's great-niece Barbara Pelot said of the joke involving President Clinton, the Pope and the Virgin Mary. But she still keeps up. She has a fabulous memory. A lot better than mine.Steen has a lot to remember. She's lived in three centuries. She was born in Wisconsin in 1896, the year William McKinley was elected president and Utah became a state. She remembers when McKinley was shot, the flu epidemic of 1918 that killed millions and the day her family's home finally got electricity. She was 12 before the first Model-T automobile was built.The events that most impressed her during a century of major changes, she said, was when they put a man on the moon and when the washing machine was invented. That was a big thing for me, she said, explaining that she worked her whole life as a home-maker except for a brief job at a freezing plant. Her husband, Edward, drove an ambulance in World War I and her son, John, was an Air Force pilot in World War II. They have both passed away. She was two daughters who are in their 80s.Steen's greatest fear, she explained to her great-great-niece Hope Hagen, is that her daughters will die before she does. Imagine living long enough to see your children die of old age, Hagen said.Of all the presidents watched come and go, Steen said her favorite was John F. Kennedy.I don't know if he was the best president, but I liked him, she said of the U.S. leader whose presidency was cut short by his 1963 assassination. I haven't voted in the last couple of years. My father would have thought it was horrible.Steen and her husband moved to Washington in 1935 so he could find work making logging roads up in the mountains. Later, she said he helped build the approach to the first bridge in Seattle.Steen has more than enough family members - 12 great grandchildren in all - and friends to throw big a party. Her birthday bash started at 1 p.m. Thursday and was still going strong late that night. Steen says her last birthday ended in quite an unusual way. She went to sleep that night and woke up because a light came on. A burglar had come into her home through an open window and was rummaging through her kitchen.I got up and I still had the toilet paper I put over my hair, she said. I guess I scared him away.Steen loves to tell such stories, usually adding a bit of her dry humour. Her great-granddaughter, 14-year-old Jenny Kelly, said she's heard many of these stories.I don't have to ask her, she just tells me stories, Kelly said. I called her this morning and she just talked and talked. ... I've heard lots of stories. Too many to keep track of.While her mind is undoubtedly sharp, Steen says there was some drawbacks to old age. Her hearing is going and her vision is poor. She said she has to sit a few feet from the TV to see it. She spends much of her time listening to books on tape, but it's getting harder to hear.Long life runs in Steen's family. She says one of her sisters died at age 103 and another at 101.So what is Steen's secret to living long?I never smoked.You can reach staff reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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