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Salina residents living life past the century mark

July 31, 2016

Living to the century mark is something most can only imagine.

Experiencing life during the Great Depression, seeing images of soldiers on the battlefield during World Wars I and II, and seeing technology transcend how we live our daily lives are just some of the stories told by Salinans Alta Brown and Revah Stokes.

Brown, 104, grew up in Delphos, while Stokes, 105, was born in Alliance, Neb., but spent most of her childhood traveling the country with her parents, Robert and Alma Hafer, her brother, Earl, and three sisters, Esther, Emily and Hazel.

Stokes has lived at Arbor Court Retirement Community of Salina the past 10 years and Brown has lived at Pinnacle Park Nursing & Rehabilitation the past nine years.

Despite their age, the two are independent, still able to get around on their own.

Brown doesn’t take any medications and Stokes takes primarily blood thinners.

Stokes recently passed her driver’s test again and was given a clean bill of health during a recent driving physical. She drives to the grocery store, doctor’s office and to get gas, but “doesn’t drive at night or during bad weather,” she said.

Living through it all

Stokes, who celebrated her birthday July 23, considers Versailles, Mo., her hometown.

She remembers moving around the country — living in Ohio, Nebraska, California, Kansas and Missouri, among other states — and “my father buying grocery stores everywhere we went, fixing them up for about three years and then moving to the next town,” she said.

“We didn’t stay in hotels. We’d put a tarp on the side of the car (Model T) and lived there most of the time,” she said. “We had big cabinets built on the side of the car, and our dinner table was whatever we wanted it to be.”

Brown, on the other hand, didn’t travel much.

She recalls riding the horse and carriage to school before dropping out when she was 16 to “help Mom and Dad on the family farm.”

“I would milk cows and take care of the chickens,” she said.

She spent a lot of time ironing and washing clothes and cleaning houses for people for a living.

Stokes spent two decades working as a telephone operator with Southwestern Bell in Versailles and Eldon, Mo.

“At that time, we had one big headset that you could switch from ear to ear and spoke through these really small speakers that had a horn that laid on your chest,” she said. “We used switchboards to plug into that let us know who we were talking to.”

Brown and Stokes lived in a time when United States citizens had to use stamps to purchase basic necessities because of rationing during World War II.

“The Depression was nothing like the recession of this day. Little to nothing was being bought. Everything was rationed during the war. We used stamps to get gas, sugar, shoes, tires — almost everything we needed,” Stokes said. “People would have to use someone else’s tire that was less worn out. Sugar was nearly impossible to get, and if you didn’t have the right stamps, you couldn’t get what you needed.”

Living today

Today, Brown, who is Bohemian, spends most of her time in her room at Pinnacle Park, sitting in quiet. Her daughter, Meir, and son, Denzel, have both passed away.

“I like it quiet. I never went many places, so it’s what I’m used to,” she said. “They take care of me good here, but I’d like to go home someday to Delphos. It’s where I grew up, and they can’t take that away from me.”

Her secret to living long is “eating a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes,” she said.

She can eat up to five tomatoes in a day.

All three of Stokes’ children — Jim, John and Virginia — and her husband, Glenn, have passed away, but she is frequently visited by her grandchildren, Kent and Rick Smith. She also has six other grandchildren, Mark Smith, J.D. Stokes, Jay Stokes, Jeff Stokes, Jacquie Stokes and Kelly Stokes.

She recently retired from the Salina-based RSVP singers and spends most of her days quilting or crafting gifts to give to loved ones.

On Aug.12, Brown will celebrate her 105th birthday and be presented a key to the city by Salina Mayor Kaye Crawford and other local leaders.

Through it all, the the two know that it takes a lot of commitment and great health to live this long.

“You can never give up. You have to keep fighting, taking care of yourself and live life,” Brown said.

“I feel good these days, and I’m happy to be here today,” Stokes said. “Life is wonderful when you get to be my age and as healthy as I am. I cherish this time.”