Woman in BI turns 105

Jean in her younger years.

Jean in her younger years.

Though hard to verify, Jean Wohlsen has to be one of the oldest residents living on Bainbridge Island as she turns 105 April 17.

Her long life is attributed to her staying in constant thought, keeping her mind going at all times, her family says.

There will be a small gathering with her fellow residents at the Madison Avenue House during lunch with balloons, cake and song. Her son Robert and daughter-in-law Linda will have cupcakes with her.

“We are only allowing two visitors at a time until Phase 4 (of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan). We just unlocked our doors two weeks ago. Before that, we were locked down for the last year,” said Brandi Hildebrand, director of Life Enrichment at Madison.

Born in 1916 at the family home in Sewickley, Penn., Jean was the only child of Mary and Edward Dithridge. Her dad worked for Pennsylvania Railroad, so the family had to move several times.

Jean was very athletic, teaching herself to swim at a young age. She also was a pitcher in softball and later played golf at Swarthmore College.

And she was an actress, playing in high school the role of Katherina “the shrew” in the famous play “The Taming of the Shrew.” Her co-star was Edward Binns, who went on to be a character actor in many movies.

After graduating high school in 1933 she went to Swarthmore.

She met her future husband, Herman “Fred” Frederick Wohlsen, while at the family summer cottage at Hances Point, MD. They were married during the summer of 1936. Fred worked for Atlantic Richfield and then Day & Zimmerman in the Philadelphia area as a civil engineer.

They raised three sons: Edward born in 1941, William in 1945 and Robert in 1950. They made regular trips with the boys driving or by train to St. Petersburg, Fla., to assist her parents. After her father died in 1958, her mother moved to Pennsylvania to live with Fred and Jean.

After her mother died in 1966, they moved to Oakland, CA in 1969 when Fred took a position with Kaiser Engineers. Jean volunteered at the Oakland Senior Center where she taught leatherwork.

Later Fred worked for Fluor Utah and took a construction manager position for a uranium mining operation in Yugoslavia. They made many short trips within Europe and the Middle East during that time.

When they returned to the U.S. they moved to a retirement community in Walnut Creek, CA. Jean returned to teaching crafts at the Oakland Senior Center. Both Jean and Fred were active in a local bible study group and Berkeley First Presbyterian Church.

Fred died in February 2000. Jean’s retirement home was damaged by a fire in 2006 that started in the next unit, killing her neighbor. Although still healthy and independent Jean moved to Madison House on Bainbridge Island in 2013 when her youngest son Robert moved to the area.

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