Turning 105 is no big deal for Mary DeLaGrange

Port Orchard birthday girl just wants her family to enjoy some cake

By Mike De Felice

Kitsap News Group

PORT ORCHARD — Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated America’s entry into World War II, Mary DeLaGrange moved to Kitsap County to work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

She and her husband later bought a home on Bethel Avenue, then a lonely road surrounded by strawberry patches and horse farms.

Today, though, Port Orchard is far removed from the rural surroundings DeLaGrange remembers more than eight decades ago. The traffic in front of her home is now congested and a large restaurant where a horse pasture was in the old days now sits next to her home.

But unlike the changes she has witnessed over the years, DeLaGrange — who will soon turn 105 — still has a driver’s license and her trademark upbeat personality.

The ever-smiling DeLaGrange actually has no magic formula to explain her longevity. “I don’t feel like I’m getting older, I’m just carrying on,” she said while traversing her spacious backyard garden.

“I don’t care for liquor. I’ve never smoked and don’t eat in excess. I just do what I have to do and that’s it. I just exist!” offered the silver-haired family matriarch.

Born in 1917, Mary will celebrate a birthday on July 1 with well-wishes from six generations of relatives ranging from a daughter now living with her, six grandkids, 17 great-grandkids, 10 great-great grandkids — and one great-great-great-granddaughter.

Living a long life is not unusual in Mary’s family. Her mother lived to be 99 and both of her brothers reached their 90s.

She’s looking forward to her birthday party, which will take the form of a large family potluck. While presents are likely in store for the birthday girl, she says she is more interested in the desserts that come after dinner.

“I hope they don’t go overboard,” Mary says. “I don’t want anyone to give me presents. There really isn’t anything that I want. I’ve got way more than I ever hoped for. I just want people to come and have cake and enjoy.”

A recent birthday tradition started by one of her grandchildren is to give Mary a wad of one-dollar bills in the amount of her age — so this year she will be handed a stack of 105 dollar bills. In the past, Mary has paperclipped together 10 one-dollar bills and carries them around to use as needed.

DeLaGrange lives with her 85-year-old daughter Lavonne Payton, who moved in with her mom two years ago. Mary keeps active on the home’s one-acre parcel.

“I don’t have a regular exercise program, but I do have a big yard to walk around,” she says.

A big part of her day involves gardening.

“I like planting,” Mary says. “I don’t have a big garden anymore. I just grow what I want to — radishes and green onions.”

She also has a green thumb for growing rhododendrons and azaleas, and filling up hanging baskets with geraniums and fuchsias. Last year the centenarian’s pear tree was so loaded with fruit, she thought the branches would break. She offloaded the fruit harvesting to her grandchildren. “Everybody got pears from me,” she smiled.

Another activity that keeps her moving is cleaning the house. Mary keeps her house spotless, family members say. And while cleaning, she always has the radio turned on. Her daughter Payton said, surprisingly, that “It’s usually on alternative rock. Maybe that’s just the station that comes in the best, I don’t know.”

If there is a secret to her longevity, it could have something to do with her happy outlook on life.

“She is very positive and never grumpy,” her daughter said. “She’s well-liked. I’ve never known her to get involved in drama or gossip, just always upbeat and smiling.”

To keep her mind active, Mary enjoys doing crossword puzzles and also reads. For entertainment, she loves to watch sports on TV — hockey football, soccer and basketball. “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” are her favorite television shows.

“They are competitive, I enjoy that.” What Mary doesn’t watch are the “Bachelorette” or “Bachelor” programs. “They are just silly,” she says.

Mary continues to contribute to the community. She is a lifetime member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a group in which she was a past matron. She supports South Kitsap Helpline and Port Orchard United Methodist Church.

It’s no doubt that people half her age would love to be in the same shape as Mary. She has not had to undergo any surgeries and has no notable medical conditions. Even though well past the century mark, she lives life without pill bottles cluttering up her bathroom counter. That’s because, amazingly enough, she is not on any medications.

“I know people a lot younger than me that have physical difficulties and they can’t get around. So, I’ve been fortunate that way. I just keep trotting along.”

Mary drove a car until her daughter moved in and took over the role of Uber-ing mom around town. Her license is up for renewal next year and Mary plans on renewing it.

“You pretty darn need to have a driver’s license even if you don’t need to drive. They ask you to show your driver’s license for everything. It’s important ID, you know.”

Moving to Port Orchard

Following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Mary and her husband moved from Spokane to Port Orchard in 1942 so Robert could do machinist work at the naval shipyard in Bremerton.

“After Pearl Harbor, that’s when my husband decided he had to get in the fight, somehow.” Mary found employment at the nearby Naval Hospital in Bremerton. She worked in medical records and later as a secretary to one of the commanding officers.

“We lived in a gunmetal gray government camping trailer. Everything had to be gunmetal gray so the enemy couldn’t spot us. At night we had to keep our curtains closed so light wouldn’t show out,” Mary remembers.

She lost her husband in 1991 at age 73.

Mary’s long and healthy life is appreciated by her family. The impressive length of her life did come under question recently. A year ago, the administrators of her retirement account seemed to have doubts about whether she was still alive. They requested that she send them a notarized picture of her holding a recent newspaper.

“Mary was kind of nervous about it, she didn’t want to see her checks stop. But the family thought it was funny,” daughter Lavonne said.