Lucy Wolfe and life on the other side of 100September 16, 2015
Lucy Wolfe comes strolling up to the Red Cross tent at the Great Darke County Fair, her stride slow but steady over the dirt and gravel pathway. A red, white and blue nylon jacket is folded crisply over her right arm. She smiles when she sees the familiar faces of the other volunteers.
“I’m back,” she says.
Lucy is a regular at Red Cross events, particularly the Fair, but the greeting she receives from those around the tent on this particular day is more the kind reserved for a celebrity than a friend or fellow volunteer. And, perhaps, for good reason. About three weeks earlier she celebrated her 100th birthday, and following an article in the Darke County Daily Advocate about the party that was thrown for her, she’s taken on a bit of a celebrity status. Over the course of the next hour and a half she will be as much of an attraction to the Red Cross tent as the stop, drop and roll lessons offered to kids or the Vials of Life handed out to the parents.
“Oh, I saw your story in the paper,” many say as they walk by and notice her sitting under the tent. “I just had to stop and say hi.”
She smiles and says Thank you and despite her quiet and humble nature secretly seems to enjoy the attention—although she admits to being less impressed by her “accomplishment” than those who stop by. Life on the other side of 100, she says, feels pretty much the same as it did before, and in both cases life feels good. She still drives, motoring around Greenville in a Buick LeSabre better than most teenagers. “Oh I have to drive,” she says. “I couldn’t do my volunteering if I didn’t drive.” She lives on her own, although she shares a duplex with her daughter Becky just for the peace of mind. Most days, if the weather is accommodating, she heads across the street to the Greenville City Park or the track around the high school football field for a walk.
“Everything works well except for one knee,” she says. “It likes to show off. I went to an orthopedic doctor and he said he wasn’t going to fix it. Once you get to a certain age, he said, you don’t heal well, so I put ice or heat on it to relieve the pain. That seems to work.”
The walks are a replacement for her long-preferred method of exercise—golf. Growing up, her family lived across from the Greenville Golf Course, and every evening when the golfers were done with their leagues her family would run over and squeeze in a round. “We would come home, eat and away we went,” she says. “That was our recreation.”
For years she was part of a golf league, and when she and husband Ed travelled for vacation, the golf clubs were always part of the luggage. “I took my clubs everywhere we went. And I kept the scorecards from when we played in other cities. I still have the whole stack out in the garage. I’ve been to every state. I was once in Costa Rica playing golf when I ran into a person from Dayton that I knew.”
She pauses and glances out into the distance as if remembering an old friend. “I don’t golf anymore,” she says solemnly before suddenly snapping back to attention. “But I refuse to sell my clubs.”
As she sits in a metal folding chair, the sun finally breaks through the clouds that have given the day a gloomy look and a chilly feel. She notices right away and looks up at the sky and smiles. “I like the warmth. It’s good for my bones.”
Nothing about Lucy Wolfe would indicate that she is a centenarian or that she’s really even that old except perhaps this: She’s a snowbird. Each year for the last 30 years, she and Becky have packed up the Buick on the day after Christmas and driven to Florida where Lucy waits out the winter, always returning on the day before Mother’s Day. Her niece owns a fleet of apartments near Orlando, so she always has a place to stay. But she always returns to Greenville. It’s home.
Lucy was born Aug. 6, 1915, on a farm near Bradford, Ohio, shortly before the family moved to Darke County and put down permanent roots. She graduated from Gettysburg High School in 1932, taking a job in a factory before finding her true calling as a nurse at the start of World War II. All of the nurses from the area were pulled into supporting the war effort, so she began volunteering with the Red Cross to fill in the gap. “I was a nurse’s aide,” she says. “I got off work at 3:00 p.m. and would call to see which hospital needed help, and would work until 11:00 p.m. I got to work at all three hospitals—Good Sam, Miami Valley and Grandview. We got to do everything, from emptying bed pans to assisting in the operating room.”
She began taking courses and eventually earned her Licensed Practical Nurse degree. “We had a nun in charge, Sister Ann I believe her name was. She was hard boiled. She would say, ‘Do it this way or else.’ And we did.”
Through the years she worked in local pharmacies and Wagner’s Bakery and Jandy’s Toy Store in Dayton, but she never stopped volunteering with the Red Cross. In 2010 she earned her 70-year volunteer pin. Without the Red Cross, she says, she wouldn’t have become a nurse, and she hasn’t forgotten that. Plus she likes to help people, and the Red Cross assignments give her that chance. And she’s taken on some challenging assignments.
In 2010, at age 95, she worked in a shelter in Tennessee for victims of a tornado. “Where did Elvis live? Memphis, yes, that’s where it was.” In 2005, at age 90, she ran a shelter in Key West for victims of Hurricane Katrina. “We were in the dining room of a Presbyterian Church for three weeks,” she says. “Everything was washed out. Everything was under water. You had to wade through water to get anywhere. We had one man who was very wealthy who lost everything. But I got to meet some pretty nice people. They were grateful more than anything else.”
As the sun begins to warm up the day, she takes off her nylon jacket and absorbs the warmth. A loudspeaker attached to a nearby pole interrupts her thoughts with announcements about the upcoming horse show and suggestions to visit different rides or exhibitors.
By her best recollection, this is her 95th year at the fair, maybe her 96th. She looks down the paths and sees much that is the same, but much that has changed. There are more food vendors, she says, although many of them don’t appeal to her. “I wouldn’t take it if they offered it to me,” she says. “I don’t like sweets. Never have. I’m not sure why. I might have some ice cream or a peppermint stick once in a while, but I can do without sugar. Sugar is why so many people go to the doctor.”
What has mostly changed, she says, is the people. She pauses and becomes a bit melancholy. “My friends are all gone,” she says. “None of them are left.” Including—especially—her husband of 58 years, Ed, who died in 1996. They met in second grade. He sat behind her in class. They were married in 1938, a love affair that resulted in two children, five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
She perks up at the memories. “He was an original member of the Air Force band at Wright Patterson,” she says. “He played the saxophone and sousaphone.”
As she continues to greet people and soak up the sun in her white Red Cross polo shirt, she obliges to answer the one question that is asked of everyone who breaks the century mark: What’s the secret to a long life. She shrugs. She had a great-grandfather who lived to be 103. “He was from Virginia. They told me he hid in a wagon to come to Ohio during the Revolutionary War.” But the rest of her relatives were young when they died. Her mom died at age 67, so it’s probably not genetics. Maybe exercise, she says. Golf is good. Oh, and staying away from the sweets.
“See those snow cones over there,” she says. “Those things will kill you.”
She shrugs again and just smiles as she says hello to more people as they walk by. Perhaps there isn’t a secret to getting there, but one thing she does know and is willing to share: Life is good, even on the other side of 100.