Born in 1908, Pells has outlived them all. She celebrated her 101st birthday with 50 family members Sunday, July 12, at the Oak Tree Villa retirement community in Scotts Valley, where she lives.
But she’s not the wheelchair-bound soap-opera watcher you might expect. Younger folks, like her son, Wendell, 66, sometimes have trouble keeping up with her on her daily walks.
Pells gets up around 5:30 a.m., does her morning exercise, goes to breakfast, then takes a walk around the grounds, using only her cane for support.
Later in the day, she might participate in one of the community’s programs or Sunday bus tours.
“She’s mentally engaged,” her son said. “She’s 101 and she watches C-Span. In 1995, she finished writing a three-volume family genealogy that met professional standards. She was driving until she was 89. She keeps adjusting.”
A native of Spokane, Wash., Pells likes to trace a life lived in several Southern California cities, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, France and Germany as the wife of the late Harrison Pells, a U.S. Army officer and later a civilian government employee.
She remembers driving up the Pacific Coast from Orange County with her family in a Model T Ford in 1915 and camping at Big Basin shortly after it was named California’s first state park.
She holds a master’s degree in retailing from New York University.
“Living in New York City alone is worth a degree,” she joked.
When she attended Ohio Wesleyan University, she recalls a professor walking in to class in October 1929 and asking, “How many of you know what happened on Wall Street today?”
“He went on to become president of CBS,” Pells said.
The professor was Frank Stanton, who was the architect of the fledgling network’s growth into a broadcasting powerhouse in the 1950s and ’60s.
Asked the inevitable question about what it takes to live a long, fruitful life, Pells doesn’t hesitate.
“Walking is the most important thing people can do to stay active,” she declared. “People don’t walk enough.”