After an eventful life working in a San Francisco bank during World War II, then in a communications company in the early days of Silicon Valley, Alice Larum spent her 100th birthday reflecting, while at home in Scotts Valley last week.
Larum invited the Press Banner into her roomy, modern trailer in the Spring Lakes Mobile Home Park to flip through yearbooks and photo albums, and to listen to stories of trips around the world, building a second residence in Mexico—and finding love.
“It’s been a good life,” the centenarian said. “I got to do a lot of things.”
Larum was born in Ukiah and attended George Washington High School in San Francisco, where she was the editor of the yearbook.
“All the boys my age went off to war,” she said. “All the fellas left—the ones that could join right away.”
Her own brother joined the Navy, lying about his age so he could get out of school and become part of the service.
It was a time of change, with the regular workforce absent, and Larum was part of it.
“There were years where they didn’t even let women in banks—only men went in banks,” she said, describing how an opportunity opened up for her. “During the war, they ran out of men.”
She was hired at a financial institution and tasked with letting people into their safety deposit boxes. But soon she was promoted to a teller position.
“My boss said, ‘OK, you’re going to go on the window,’” she recalled. “I had never even had anything to do with the window.”
Larum found she was quite good at the job.
“There was no training or anything,” she said. “They put money in and they take money out, and that’s the main thing.”
Her lover, Roald Larum, had been posted in Alaska, and when he came home, he talked her into getting married. So, she decided to quit her bank job.
“In those days, you didn’t work and be married,” she said. “Things change.”
It wasn’t long before she regretted her decision.
“After the men came home, there were no places to rent and no jobs to get,” she said. “I should’ve kept my job. I shouldn’t have quit. But it was a different world then. Times weren’t that great. There was no work for all these fellas that were getting out of the service.”
Larum gave birth to her first child, a girl named Tori.
Four years later, they had a boy named Kenneth.
He had just taken her out for breakfast to celebrate her first day of triple-digit life.
“He takes care of me now because I can’t drive anymore,” she said. “He’s a surfer. He has been since he was 12. And he lives in Capitola, which is one of the best surfing places on the coast. He takes me to doctors and wherever I have to go.”
Larum raised her kids as a stay-at-home mom in San Mateo, but after they graduated, she chose to return to the workforce.
“I figured, my kids were out of school, what was I gonna do?” she said.
She found a job with Lennart G. Erickson and Kurt E. Appert’s Lenkurt Electric Company, which had moved to San Carlos in the 1940s.
“We prepared the invoices because it was part of a big company—their biggest part was in New York,” she said. “In those days, everything was done by keypunch. Then the computers came along and changed all that. No longer did you do everything the hard, long way.”
But Larum also experienced how the optimism of the tech scene could turn all-too-quickly into dashed dreams.
“Silicon Valley, that was just gonna grow and be big. It was at the very beginning. And all these companies were getting buildings there,” she said. “Well, then a lot of them backed down and changed—like the one I worked for.”
Unfortunately, her personal life ended up on the rocks, too.
After years of marriage, Larum and her husband divorced. A few years later, she met another man—John Richmond.
“We had a lot of fun,” she said. “We built a place in Mexico, and we spent the winters there for 15 years.”
While they were down south, they got a contractor who lived nearby named Sal Barretta to look after their property in San Mateo, which included several rental units.
“‘When I’m in Mexico, I don’t want to know ‘nothing,’” Barretta recalls John telling him. “‘Whatever happens, happens.’”
Barretta says Larum has always been remarkably even-keeled.
“She never raised her voice; she was mellow,” he said. “Very caring woman. And she took care of John when she was sick. And they both played golf down there in Boulder Creek.”
He continues to help manage her finances to this day.
“She didn’t want any celebration at all, and all the sudden the kids said, ‘No, you’re going to have a celebration,’” he said on her birthday—a couple days before the weekend get-together. “Now she knows she’s getting a thing going, she’s getting all excited.”
At home in Scotts Valley, Larum excitedly points out where all her relatives are going to sleep. Then, she looks over at an album of an excursion to Amsterdam.
“No, it’s the one with the China trip you have to see,” she urges.
It’s a ringed booklet chock-full with old brochures, faded photos and used tickets, capturing America’s current rival in an earlier stage of development, as the couple traversed the foreign land, visiting top tourist sites and natural wonders.
“We went to China for three weeks,” she said. “There were a lot of poor people walking around, and they didn’t have cars. Only the office higher-up people had a car. Everything was bicycles. You’d see a bicycle with big long poles…They’d use bikes to transport everything.”
On other voyages, they’d take barges in France, examine castles in Germany, fly in hot air balloons—and they even ventured behind the Iron Curtain.
That trip to Budapest, Hungary—part of the Soviet Union at the time—was quite memorable—in-part because they signed-up for a homestay program.
“At that time, you couldn’t get a hotel room because they didn’t have that many,” she said.
Their host took them to dinner across the street and John got a little too into the local cuisine.
“He overdid it on that paprika,” she recalled, noting her next foray was to the market to find soup while her husband recovered.
Sadly, her husband died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), but she’s thankful she has plenty of great memories to look back on.
These days she catches a ride with a neighbor couple to church each week and continues to manage the apartment in San Mateo.
On Tuesday, Barretta reported that Larum definitely had a blast at the big weekend shindig in her honor. He believes it’s her ability to really soak up the best of life that’s been the key to her longevity.
“I think it’s her attitude, you know?” he said. “She never really raised her voice. She was just laid back…This is one of those cases when you do right in your life you get rewarded.”