By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — There’s an air of no-nonsense cordiality to Janice Fairbanks. Not one to dwell on the past, she keeps up to date about current social issues like Black Lives Matter and hones her skills as a trivia master by faithfully watching Jeopardy every evening on her television.
But she blossoms in the company of her family — her son, daughter-in-law and dozens of grandchildren, great and great-great included — and often doesn’t get to bed until 10:30 at night after a busy day spent with loved ones.
Janice has plenty of energy to burn and a crackerjack memory containing countless remembrances of her days as a child, spouse and mother during the last century. And there’s plenty to remember. That’s evidenced by the fact that Fairbanks will celebrate her 103rd birthday Feb. 10 at Stafford Healthcare at Ridgemont, a nursing facility on Pottery Avenue that she has called home for three months.
Born the same year that World War I broke out, the North Dakota native’s first memory as a child was of her family’s horse and buggy. That version of horsepower was commonplace back then. Autos were few and far between on the farm near Drake, N.D., where Fairbanks lived as a child.
Chores, school and church consumed her life on the farm. Fairbanks and her five brothers and three sisters often comprised the entire student body at their one-room schoolhouse. Surrounded by her siblings — her ready-made friends — she said her childhood years were contented.
“We had fun going to dances and parties,” Fairbanks said with a smile.
Family was important to her in those days — and still is. In addition to her many “grands,” she has a sibling who’s still living — a brother in Centralia, Wash., who’s 19 years younger than her.
She married Samuel Fairbanks, also a North Dakotan, and later moved to Minnesota where he could work in an iron mine. At 19, Janice went to nursing school and later worked in a hospital after marrying.
An accident in the mine altered their lives, however. Samuel lost his leg as a result of the accident, so he retrained as a barber.
Wishing to support America’s effort in World War II, Samuel moved the family near Fort Lewis so he could work as an Army barber. Janice also helped out by becoming a welder at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard — one of the many “Rosie the Riveters” who donned overalls and took on jobs previously judged to be “men’s work” in shipyards and airplane factories around the nation.
After the war, the young family returned to their rural roots by purchasing a farm in Rochester, Wash., where they grew strawberries. When that crop turned out to be unprofitable, they began raising chickens and selling eggs.
Life on the farm, as it had been for her as a child, required that she work hard. In addition to raising son Gregory, Fairbanks handled the cooking for the household, which was the norm for women in that era.
“I had to cook for three,” she said of those 18 years on the farm. “I was known to be a pretty good cook back then. My husband was no good in the kitchen.”
Janice also returned to nursing while living in Rochester and drove to Chehalis to work in a hospital there. After selling the farm, the couple bought a motel in Roseburg, Ore. Even though she remembers being a motel owner as a demanding job, Fairbanks nonetheless enjoyed it. Her husband did not, so they later moved to California prior to returning to Washington.
After Fairbanks’ husband passed away at age 78, she moved in with her son and his family in Port Orchard. Today, nearby are five generations of her close-knit family who Linda Flater, recreation director for the nursing-care facility, said are devoted to her well-being and visit often.
Fairbanks said she spends much of her time these days tending to her three favorite pursuits: exercising, watching “Wheel of Fortune” and other game shows, and eating.
“As to how I reached 103,” she said, “I guess I picked the right parents. It probably helped that I was raised on a farm and always ate fresh food that we produced.”
On Feb. 10, the Fairbanks family will be in charge of Janice’s 103rd birthday celebration blowout. That means lots of love and cheer from three sets of grandchildren. It’s bound to be a more grand affair than her “low-key” 100th birthday party shared with just family members.
But this time? Let’s just say there’s probably a good chance Janice will miss her 10 p.m. bedtime in the process.