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Coupeville native reflects on past 101 years

Leone Argent turned 101 years old this week. She lived nearly all those years on Whidbey Island. - Sara Hansen / Whidbey News-Times
Leone Argent turned 101 years old this week. She lived nearly all those years on Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Sara Hansen / Whidbey News-Times

In 1994, Leone Argent helped her son put a new roof on her home.

She was 81 years old at the time, moving trusses and doing what needed to be done.

After that, she said she retired from roofing.

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, Argent turned 101.

“Velcro and zippers — you were invented before those,” her daughter Joy Linde teased.

Argent is the oldest living Coupeville graduate — from the class of 1931.

Argent didn’t arrive on the island until she was 5 years old. She was born in Crook, Colo., at the northeast corner of the state on a ranch during a snow storm. She was delivered by her Grandma Green, and she didn’t have a birth certificate because no doctor was present.

Her mother was a Libbey, a pioneering Whidbey Island family.

When Argent was 5 years old, her mother wanted to go back to the island for a visit. The plan originally was to take a train but her dad insisted on waiting until the crops were harvested so he could buy a Model-T and drive the family out.

He only had one driving lesson before the trek.

The first day the set out — Argent, her two brothers and her parents — the side curtains were drawn and the top was up.  When her dad stopped on some railroad tracks, but couldn’t see an oncoming train because of the curtains.

At the last minute, her brother reached over, turned the keys and the vehicle slipped back off the tracks.

“After that, we always rode with the top and curtains down,” she said.

There weren’t roads, so they had to follow where old train tracks had been. To save the breaks, they would put the car in a lower gear, and turn the engine off. One time, the keys fell out of the car and they had to walk back up the hill to try to find them. Since she was young, and low to the ground, she said she spotted the key. She didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was to find the key, but her whole family treated her very well after that.

During the week-long drive to Seattle, they ate baked beans, cheese and bread for their meals.

They slept on a canvas that her father had fashioned for the car. The parents would wake up and reconfigure the kids in the back seat so they could sleep while they pressed on. When the car would overheat, they’ed drain the radiator water, bathe and then have breakfast.

Even thought the intention was just to come for just a visit to Whidbey Island, Argent said her mother didn’t want to go back to Colorado, so they stayed.

Argent’s dad had to go back and sell everything, which he did luckily, just before the Dust Bowl hit.

Argent said her father always felt responsible for having contributed to that through the common farming practices of the day.

“He always felt guilty,” Argent said. “He could see that was not the thing to do.”

After earning her high school diploma, she attended Western Washington University, earned her teaching certification and graduated in 1933. She then went on to teach in Mutiny Bay. She taught first, second, third and fourth grade students all at the same time.

Around that era, her brother, Daryle, brought the first airplane to Whidbey Island.

“He was always begging us to go ride with him,” Argent said. “He wanted to teach me to fly, but I’d rather be home and ride my horse.”

When she was in her early 20s, she did finally fly under his supervision once in a while.

“It’s fun to be in control of a plane and fly,” Argent said.

She met her husband, Russ Argent, through his work. He was a bakery salesman, so every week he would come by and drop off goods, and take orders for the following week.

Argent said her mother liked him right way.

“He was at the door,” Argent said. “She handed me the money to hand to him.”

She resisted her mother’s persistence at first, but they eventually married and had three children: Joy, Dennis and Gene.

When she was married, she had to give up teaching, because at the time only single women were supposed to teach. Later on she went on to teach fourth through sixth grades in Coupeville for a couple decades.

When it was time to build a house for their family, it was hard to find the materials during World War II.

“You couldn’t buy lumber because of the war,” she said.

They’d collect wood from the beach, or salvage what they could from torn down buildings. They got windows from the old school and a door from the courthouse.

Over the years, she raised chickens, had saddle horses and cattle.

She still lives on the property her parents purchased. There are four buildings on the property: the building her dad built, the home she and her husband built, her current home, and her daughter’s house.

Around Argent’s home, turtle figurines can be found. Turtles are a sign of longevity, and her daughter attributes the kinship her mother has to the creature as a simple explanation of her own longevity.

“Mother and her turtles are still here,” Linde said.

Last year for her 100th birthday, a party was held at Jenne Farm. At the event, she saw a lot of her students who were then retired.

This year they are going to send out invitations to visit with Argent, Linde said. That way she can have more one-on-one visiting time with people.

Argent also has been able to travel all over, from France to New Zealand, and all round the United States.

“Now I think I should’ve gone to Africa,” Argent said.

“Other than that, I’ve been to all those.”

All of these anecdotes are but a glimpse of the Argent’s experiences over the years.

“You live that many years, you can’t write it all down,” Argent said.

“There’s just too much.”

 

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