By Joyce Coronel
Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States. Women celebrated winning the right to vote in New York. World War I raged on. This was what was happening on Nov. 18, 1917. It was also, coincidentally, the day Pearl Fern Lawson was born.
While some of those milestones may long since have faded from memory, Pearl Fern Lawson’s still hasn’t. At least not yet nor apparently any time soon.
Surrounded by family and friends at Westchester Senior Living in Tempe, the 100-years-young Fern sat quietly in her wheelchair, watching contentedly as a party in her honor unfolded. A display at the front of the room featured a poster with photos of her throughout her long life which began on a farm in South Dakota and eventually wound up in southern Arizona and, ultimately, Tempe.
Fern has outlived two husbands, including the father of birthday party organizer Nancy Orvis, now 72. “She married my dad in 1976 and they lived in Green Valley for 30-some years, south of Tucson,” Orvis said.
“We finally convinced them when my dad was 98 to move up here so we could be closer to take care of them.” Orvis’ father died when he was 99½, and that’s when Fern moved to the care center at Westchester
“She’s social,” said Dawn Dunn-Rice, activities director at the Tempe senior-living facility. “She likes the modified bowling that we do—birthday parties and our no-cook cooking class. Anything social—she’s there.”
Then there are the glamour shots. Yes, glamour shots. Seems that Fern, alongside other residents, enjoys those too. The ladies recently gathered for a makeover that included hair, makeup and photos. A framed image of Fern at her stylish best stood at the front of the hall during the festivities.
So how did Fern manage to make it all the way to her 100th birthday party?
“Vitamins. Shaklee vitamins. We took ‘em for 30 years,” Fern said. She also credited the love of her parents and a marriage late in life.
“I married a man after we were both 65 and we were married for 35 years.”
Her happiest memories are centered around her parents, life in the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore and her first marriage that took place when she was 25.
Fern’s birthday also managed to capture the attention of Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, who issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 18 Pearl Fern Lawson Day.
The roomful of friends and relatives, some of whom had traveled from as far away as New Mexico and Iowa, applauded as Don Orvis read the proclamation.
Nancy Orvis thanked the crowd for their attendance. “I know that Fern appreciates all of her friendships here at Westchester and beyond. Our family is small but mighty.”
The century mark doesn’t come around too often for most folks, so it only seemed right to have two cakes to celebrate, one chocolate and the other white, both festooned with colorful roses. Then there was the candle in the shape of 100. It took Fern only two blows to extinguish it.
Ballard said Fern isn’t the only centenarian at Westchester—Edna, 102, lives in the independent-living apartments.
“She is a force of nature and still plays the old time hymns on piano for vespers.”