After a speaking engagement in Lakewood recently, I met Marlene Bostic and her Mother, Wilma Rosenow, a real American Treasure. Probably I should mention that Wilma Rosenow is 106 years old. That’s not a typo. She’s looking forward to her 107th birthday on July 25.
Growing up on the windswept Montana prairie, Willma was just five years old when Henry Ford invented his auto, but Wilma herself has a real fondness for Harleys and has had one at her birthday parties the last few years.
In her own handwriting, Wilma shares her story.
“In 1912 when I was 5 years old, my parents took up a 320 acre dry land homestead north of Shelby, Montana. Mother and Dad, two older brothers and two sisters. We arrived bywagon with all of our possessions, a tent, our stove, food, bedding and tools. The wind blew 50 miles per hour all day long, and we braced up the tent until the bread was baked.”
Wilma remembered daily life on the homestead; “Saturday night we all had a bath in the big wash tub with castile soap. The younger ones wentfirst. During the 1918 flu epidemic Dad shaved a sulphur block over the hot stove to purify the air. Anyone with a temperature got a warm lard and onion poultice applied to the chest and had a hot stovelid wrapped in paper and cloth to our feet. “Monday was wash day with two galvanized tubs in the kitchen. Water was heated on the stove in a copper boiler. White clothes were boiled and lifted out with a broom handle. Laundry soap was made with beef tallow and lye. The final rinse had Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. It was funny to see the men’s long johns shrink down in the warm room when brought in from the line, frozen stiff.”
Wilma is part of the true story of the American journey, and surely one of the last American pioneers who can speak to us in person. She is the first of twelve children to go to high school. Her profound conviction is that life is to be lived. She is an artist, doing evocative oils. She crochets, loves to climb and hike, and she’s not slowing down. On the day we met, Wilma wasenjoying her favorite activity, lunch out with friends, perhaps accompanied by a glass of red wine.
Wilma keeps a full schedule. Last week, Daughter Marlene told me, her mother started the day with a tooth extraction and errands, and when most of us would want a nap, still managed to enjoy lunch at her favorite Italian restaurant.
Wilma and I had lunch recently at a very nice Tacoma waterfront restaurant, where she enjoyed planked salmon, and a lovely sorbet and her favorite glass of red wine. Wilma feels strongly that people should keep going and doing all their lives and not just sit down and wait.
“Learn as much as you can,” she says, “especially about science.” Wilma has a deep concern about the scientific information available to us, that isn’t being fully realized and used to make life better. “Whatever you learn in this world will be returned to you in the world to come,” she says.
Marlene remembers other important lessons. “Mother taught me Christianity; living my faith and giving of myself,” she recalls.
Wilma lives daily with her God as she has all of her life. At 106, Wilma Rosenow still has a twinkle in her eye and lots more lessons to teach. She is looking forward to the birthday surprises on July 25. Her pet peeve? People who ask her what her plans are for her birthday. “I wouldn’t ask them about their plans for their birthday. “She says, “I just want to be surprised.”
Wilma has enjoyed a lot of birthday surprises. On her 102nd birthday she took a ride on the beloved Harley with Daryl Ruff who has been a party fixture. There are always surprises. Last year, nearby Pt. Defiance Zoo sent a Great White Barn Owl as a special guest, so we know that this year will be special.
I’ve been so inspired by meeting Wilma that naturally I’ve told everyone I see about this remarkable woman. I have been amazed at how many people have said, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to live that long.” Really? If you could live with productive joy every day of 107 years, surely you’d welcome every day?
For myself, I think Wilma Rosenow is like the ambassador of a distant Kingdom. She serves with enthusiasm and relish, spreading the story and ideals of this faraway land. This has been her life work, but she knows as all ambassadors do, that she can be called home at any moment. And she’s fine with that.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speakerand contributing writer to the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow Dorothy’s blog at www.itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at PO Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 253-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com