By Mike De Felice
For the Review
Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mary DeLaGrange moved to Kitsap County to work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Mary and her husband moved from Spokane so Robert could do machinist work 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. She worked in medical records and later as a secretary.
“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 remembered.
She and her husband bought a home on Bethel Avenue in Port Orchard. She lost her husband in 1991 at age 73.
She’s seen a lot of changes over the years, but she still has her upbeat personality and a driver’s license — even though she’s turning 105 July 1.
DeLaGrange 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!”
Born in 1917, Mary will celebrate her birthday 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 party, which will be a large family potluck. “I hope they don’t go overboard,” Mary said. “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.” A recent birthday tradition started by one of her grandchildren is to give Mary a wad of $1 bills in the amount of her age.
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 said.
She has not had to undergo any surgeries and has no notable medical conditions. 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.”
A big part of her day involves gardening. “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, she thought the branches would break. She offloaded the fruit to her grandchildren.
Another activity that keeps her moving is cleaning house, which is spotless, family members say. While cleaning, she always has the radio on. Daughter Payton said: “It’s usually on alternative rock. Maybe that’s just the station that comes in the best.”
If there is a secret to her longevity, it could have something to do with her happy outlook. “She is very positive and never grumpy,” her daughter said. “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 TV shows. “They are competitive, I enjoy that.”
Mary continues to contribute to the community. She is a lifetime member of the Order of the Eastern Star. She supports South Kitsap Helpline and Port Orchard United Methodist Church.
Mary drove a car until her daughter moved in. Her license is up for renewal next year, and Mary plans to renew 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.”