At 100, 'a new lease on life' - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

At 100, 'a new lease on life'

Evelyn Wilson Betts gives credit to happiness, steamed veggies, Shredded Wheat, staying busy and family

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Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:17 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Evelyn Wilson Betts turned 100 years of age on Jan. 29. She shares a birthday with multi-media superstar Oprah Winfrey, who is "not near 100, that's for sure," Evelyn said.

Oprah's people thought it would be special for Evelyn to travel from the Northwest, where she lives at The Country Club at La Cholla, to Chicago for a guest appearance on Oprah's TV show. Evelyn politely said "no." She had a bunch of family in town for the centenarian celebration, and besides, it's warm and sunny in greater Tucson in late January, and it's often cold and gray in Chicago.

"They were surprised I turned Oprah down," Evelyn said. But it's no big deal. The big deal is that Evelyn Betts is 100, and still counting.

"It's something to be 100 years old," Evelyn said in her apartment. "I'm only 100 once." And she can do what she pleases.

"Before I hit this 100, I had good days, but a lot of bad days," Evelyn said. "The closer I got to 100, I got rejuvenated, somehow. I thought, 'maybe I'm going to make it.'

"It's time to take a new lease on life," she said. "You just relax."

Evelyn has had "a pretty good life, free of any complications of any sort," she said. "I've been blessed with some good health."

Her mother died of tuberculosis when Evelyn was 14. Her grandmother made sure everyone had wholesome food to eat. "I didn't eat a lot of junk food," Evelyn said. "It was before a lot of junk food came out."

From childhood, Evelyn remembers the big box of Shredded Wheat, and its large loaf of cereal "that was like a bale of hay.

"To this day, I eat the Shredded Wheat that is brushed with strawberries," she said. Steamed vegetables are also part of her routine. She takes the bus from her home to the grocery store once a week, and stocks up on fresh green beans and asparagus. "I have a steamer, to this day," Evelyn said. Asparagus takes eight minutes.

She sleeps late, too. When she stopped working, Evelyn "promised myself … I'm not going to be up to be at work at 8" every day.

Evelyn graduated from high school in Wilmington, Del., in 1928, and got a job immediately with The DuPont Company. She married in 1931, "right in the Depression. Everything was so cheap. A loaf of bread, you could get for five cents." Her husband worked for DuPont, too. "They only paid you once a month," she said. "We lived high on the hog, the first week."

After DuPont, Evelyn worked for Armstrong Cork, and Berg Barge and Tugboat Co. She has two children, Sally and Riggs, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Her daughter Sally moved to Arizona in 1979, and Evelyn visited her twice a year. "Mother, you love it out here," Sally told her, and it was true. Evelyn moved to Scottsdale from Delaware in 1984. "I didn't bring my snow shovel when I moved out," she said.

It was a bold move, leaving her friends behind and the place where she'd lived forever, daughter-in-law Gloria Griffith said.

Evelyn immediately began volunteer work at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital's gift shop. She started knitting baby caps for newborns, and in the end created 1,400 of the little toppers, sold through the hospital's gift shop.

"I enjoyed every minute of that," she said. "I finally gave up my knitting needles, and all of my patterns, to one of my neighbors."

She's played plenty of bridge, and enjoyed it. She writes letters. She loves baseball, rooting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Evelyn believes living in the Southwest has added 20 years to her life. "I've been free of all those winter colds," she said. "I have all the flowers, the green grass, the leaves on the trees, and the sunshine." Pusch Ridge is visible from the back deck. Daughter Sally "has taken good care of me, she really has."

Evelyn has gone from a cane to a walker. "I've done beautifully with that," she said. "Whoever invented them did a good thing." Evelyn notes the proliferation of walkers at the Country Club from when she first moved in nearly 10 years ago.

She has a housekeeper once a week.

"I do my own dusting," she said. "If I make the dust, I clean it up."

Through it all, "I kept happy," Evelyn said. "I was always happy. I always kept busy, and I think that was important. To this day, I can remember things in my childhood, from way back. I've always had a wonderful memory.

"I have outlived so many wonderful people that were a big part of my life," she said, and yet there is not sadness in her voice. "Family members believe that the secret to her longevity is most likely her happy, sunny disposition," Sally said.

Evelyn has a photographic portrait of herself, taken when she was 19, young and pretty. "It must have been all that Shredded Wheat," she jokes.

 "You've had an earful," Evelyn said, bidding good-bye. She's had 100 years-ful … and counting.

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