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105 years and still going strong


Sequim Mayor Pro Tem Laura Dubois, right, wishes Helen Marie Gamroth, left, a very happy 105th birthday. Photo by Ashley Miller

Helen Marie Gamroth turned 105 years old Saturday, July 17, but her mind is still as sharp as a 20-year-old, according to friends and family.

Ask the silver-haired Sequim resident anything about her family or something that happened in the past and not only will she recall the event but she'll tell you exactly who said what and what they were wearing, said daughter-in-law Pepper Gamroth during a birthday celebration at the Guy Coleman Center at Carrie Blake Park Sunday, July 18.

Friends, family members and Sequim Mayor Pro Tem Laura Dubois showered Gamroth with presents and affection during the party. Highlights included giant frosted cupcakes, an autographed photograph of actress Betty White, and personal letters acknowledging Gamroth on her special day from Gov. Chris Gregoire and President Barack Obama.

Dubois recognized Gamroth as a "distinguished citizen of this city." The honoree responded with, "I am happy to be here and am so glad to see so many old and new friends."

She was an unexpected gift to her parents, born during her mother's late childbearing years and seven years younger than the next closest sibling in age, Pepper Gamroth shared with party guests. In the upstairs bedroom of a large Victorian house with a beautiful wrap-around porch, a fair-skinned child was born July 17, 1905, who quickly became the "baby" of the house and "Daddy's little girl."

Born in Cudahy, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee, Helen Marie was the youngest of four. Always a "go-getter," she attended night classes at the university where met her husband, Al Gamroth. The couple celebrated 64 years of marriage, three children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren before he died in 1995.

At that point, Gamroth lived for eight years with her daughter in Crystal Lake, Ill., before relocating to Sequim to live with her son in 2001. One year ago she moved into the Sequim Health & Rehabilitation Center on Hemlock Street.

Gamroth continues to exercise once a day - sometimes twice - for 30 minutes. She takes no prescription medication and has suffered no major illnesses.

Other than breaking a hip eight years ago and suffering a blood infection from an ingrown toenail that caused a heart problem and required the installation of a pacemaker, Gamroth has been "healthy as a horse," said son Neil Gamroth.

Her children call her the "steel spider" because she proved the doctors wrong when they said she'd "never walk again" after the fall.

A health conscious woman, Gamroth never smoked and drinks alcohol only in moderation, indulging in a shot of schnapps - or what she calls a "schluck" - every once in a while. She credits her age to "good health, good genes and good relatives," noting that seven cousins, aunts and uncles all lived past the age of 95, three of whom lived past 100.

The oldest living person in the world, according to Wikipedia.com, was Jeanne Calment who lived to be 122 years and 164 days old. The oldest documented living person in the world now is Eugenie Blanchard, a French woman of 114 years.

According to Gamroth, those records are safe. "I don't intend to make a record, enough is enough!" she said. "I'm beginning to feel my age little by little but I try to keep going and will live out the life God planned for me."

She enjoys reading, collecting rocks, playing the piano, painting, playing bridge and is participating in a study about centenarians and super centenarians.

U.S. statistics for the year 1905, according to FreeRepublic.com:

  • Life expectancy is 47 years
  • 14 percent of households have a bathtub, 8 percent have a telephone
  • There are 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved roads
  • The speed limit in most cities in 10 mph
  • The average worker makes $200-400 per year
  • More than 95 percent of all births are at home
  • 90 percent of doctors have no college education
  • Sugar costs 4 cents a pound, eggs 14 cents a dozen and coffee, 15 cents a pound
  • The leading causes of death are pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke
  • Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska aren't states
  • Two of 10 adults can't read or write
  • Marijuana, heroin and morphine are available over-the-counter at drugstores

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