Whidbey native proves it’s never too late to learn

Among the baby boomer generation you’ll often hear claims like, “50 is the new 30” or “40 is the new 20.”

Among the baby boomer generation you’ll often hear claims like, “50 is the new 30” or “40 is the new 20.”

Well, in one woman’s case, it seems 90 is the new 70, or maybe 60, or maybe even 50. Ninety-year-old Janet Onffroy has enough energy and passion to make age restriction a thing of the past.

Onffroy’s great grandparents, the Abrahamses, moved to Whidbey Island in 1905. The Abrahamses were orginially from Holland, and moved through Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana before settling on farm land in Clover Valley. The property remained in the family until the start of World War II when Whidbey Island Naval Air Station snatched up the land for the base.

Janet Onffroy was born in 1919 on Whidbey and moved down to Salem, Ore. with her family in 1924.

Onffroy can truly say she has lived her life in full. During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corps. Later, she got a degree in French from Middlebury College in Vermont where she met her husband. Onffroy said they loved to travel and lived in Iowa, Maine, Vermont and California among other places. She and her husband were both language teachers and spent time teaching in Morocco and working as counselors on a cruise ship that went to Hong Kong. Additionally, Onffroy had the opportunity to study in France on a Fulbright scholarship. And throughout all of her adventures, Onffroy has painted.

Onffroy currently lives in southern New Jersey near her son, but last week she came back to visit Whidbey for the first time in nearly 60 years.

Though Onffroy usually paints portraits and still-lifes, she saw a Plein Air class advertised online at the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville and said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn something new. She boarded a plane on the East Coast and came out for the week-long class.

“I got so thrilled,” Onffroy said. “I thought what a great way to see my relatives.”

Lisa Bernhardt, the art school’s assistant director, said Onffroy is an amazing student.

“We just thought it was cool that she wasn’t afraid to fly cross country and jump right in,” Bernhardt said. “Plein Air students stand in the field for hours and she holds her own.”

Onffroy stayed with her niece Shirlee Hagan while she was in town, and Hagan said she was wowed at her aunt’s enthusiasm.

“This is a courageous and artistic challenge that she’s taking on,” Hagan said. “She’s been very, very concerned like a typical student, but she’s loving it. She comes home and she’s just full of excitement.”

Onffroy’s youth and love of life seem to impress all she comes into contact with. Onffroy’s mother lived to be over 100, so she credits her longevity to mostly good genes, but also her positive attitude.

“As long as people keep busy and happy, their lives will be long. I’m still interested in looking towards the future,” she said.

Onffroy said she couldn’t believe how big Coupeville is today and remembered Oak Harbor as being “so charming and small.”

She wrapped up her visit last weekend with a family reunion in Oak Harbor organized by Hagan.

“I just hope to be able to emulate what she’s doing at that age,” Hagan said. “Over the years she’s brought me treasures from where she’s traveled. And now I can return the favor by providing this for her.”