This holiday season, families gather to celebrate what they’re thankful for. Many celebrations span generations, and younger folks hear stories from elders on life and culture before they knew it. That history is something many families hold sacred, even more as the internet and genealogy makes it easier than ever for some folks to track their heritage.
Living history, through family, is even richer when there’s 100 years of tales to tell.
The U.S. has the most centenarians (folks who are 100 and over) living today with an estimated 80,000, followed by Japan’s 47,700 according to the American Society on Aging. The average life expectancy is 78.6 years.
Here’s the diverse stories of three women centenarians, who all had different travels, lifestyles and experiences of major events, like World War II, but all shared Renton in common.
In a log cabin, 100 years ago, Ruth Morris, then Ruth Wilson, was born in Renton Highlands on the property of fire station 12. She learned from an early age how to butcher and sell turkeys. Her father, William Wilson operated a dairy farm and was a county road foreman, helping build many of Renton’s roads.
From the start, her family says, she was always savvy. Once her father said she could get the money of any restaurants she got turkey orders from. She got a bunch of orders from famous Seattle restaurants to make side money, along with her milk route where she got milk from cows and made money delivering it on horse and cart.
As a teenager, while attending Renton High School, she also played pranks and such with her friends as a teen. They used to steal gear-shift knobs and throw fruit at cars. She graduated in 1938, but had no yearbook while dealing with the financial burden of the Great Depression.
She attended the Bible Institute, now Biola University, in Los Angeles. When she wasn’t in school, she was a stand-up comedian for soldiers.
One night, she was at an event at a hotel, where one half of the bookings were from her event and the other sailors. The chaperones made it clear she wasn’t supposed to go talk to the sailors, but she met up with them outside.
When she returned for the summer, she worked at a soda fountain in a Seattle Bartells. Whenever she was approached by sailors, she always said she was “going to Bible college.” Then one day it happened that the sailor was a Bible student too, and is well known for being a Christian on his ship. They were married and lived in Arkansas and had two children. Then they moved back to Renton in 1949.
She had a tough childhood, but the family said you would never know it from how she lived her life. She was always doing art out of driftwood, glass bottles, rocks and anything she could. She always had a great garden. All the while she had jobs like selling Tupperware and driving buses. She had six children total.
She also did a lot of traveling for her husband’s missionary work, which Ruth was resistant to at first. They lived in the Dominican Republic for five years and the Philippines for two years, until she realized she could afford home cleaning staff in other countries, her family said.
Her children, and their children celebrated her 100th birthday, in her care facility in Everett.
Satoko “Sachi” Hori
Satoko Iwasaki was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1919.
When her family moved to the U.S., her father had to list out the children’s birthdays. Not knowing hers, he gave Satoko the same birthday as himself, Nov. 20, that the family still goes by (though she likely turns 100 in January). The next year, she and her mother arrived in San Francisco in 1920. She was a naturalized citizen by 1953.
As a 14 year old, Satoko attended Franklin High School. She lived in the Bryn Mawr community, with 10 brothers and sisters, west of Renton Airport. Her dad had Satoko and several siblings work long hours in the greenhouse business. She remembers being surrounded by the different plants.
“I spent all my time there,” Satoko said. “The main things were Chrysanthemums and Poinsettias.”
In high school, Satoko was in the top 10 in her class of 600 students, and was offered a scholarship for Washington State University, according to a report on her from the Nisei Veterans Foundation. Satoko wanted to attend university and continue her education, but her father didn’t accept it.
Around the same time, she was seeing Jack Hori, who played baseball on the Auburn team after meeting him through her brother. After Jack left for the U.S. Army in 1941, they wrote to each other. In 1943, she left to San Antonio, Texas and married Jack.
While he was away, Satoko was one of 9,000 people imprisoned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center, one of 10 camps that interned Japanese Americans during World War II. The center, a high desert area on the Snake River Plain in south central Idaho, was established in 2001 (over 50 years later) as a national historic site commemorating the people like Satoko and others forced there. She had her first son, named Jack, while in the camp.
Satoko and her husband are listed on the Nisei Veterans Center memorial wall in Seattle, which includes veterans and internees.
When Jack senior was discharged in 1946, Satoko had been freed from the relocation center for about a year. When he returned they opened a small grocery store together called Joe’s Market along Rainier Avenue. Afterwards she had two more children, Michael and Cathy.
Eventually the family moved into a house in Bryn Mawr, after Jack senior came down with tuberculosis and they closed the store. Satoko worked for Ernst Hardware in downtown Seattle, Renton Business School and the Borden Chemical Company as an executive secretary. They also lived in downtown Seattle and Bellevue from 1961 to 1970. Jack then died in 1978.
She retired from the chemical company in 1985. She then bought a condo in Renton along Williams Avenue, looking over the Cedar River, walking every day around the neighborhood.
In 2016, she moved to a group home in Renton, Agape Care LLC, where she celebrated her 100th birthday with her children and siblings. Satoko said she doesn’t feel like a 100-years-old. She has two grandkids, four great grandkids and three great-great grandkids.
Louise was born on March 9, 1918. She remembers Renton wasn’t a rich town, mostly coal miners including her father. She remembers the Italian grocers downtown and everyone knowing one another. From a kid to a teenager, she said basketball was the big thing.
She graduated Renton High School in 1936 and earned a job right away in the United Mine Workers of America. After that, she worked for the Committee of Industrial Organizations at the Smith Tower in Seattle. In 1943, she joined the Marine Corps. She was the first woman in Renton accepted into the Marines, one of the last of the branches of the U.S. military to finally allow women. Only white and Native American women could join at the time. Although she worked as a secretary in all these positions, she never learned had to learn how to use a keyboard. To this day, she knows only the motions of a typewriter.
Later on she worked in San Francisco, but returned to Renton when her father died and lived in her family home on Tobin Avenue. She worked in Seattle at the elections department for 25 years, until she worked at Pacific Bank, which became Wells Fargo, for 10 years. Once retired, she spent her time volunteering at Renton History Museum.
In what spare time she had she did a lot of travel, including Australia, Greece and visiting relatives in Italy. Wherever she met someone, she said she was able to make lifelong friends. She kept letters with most of them for a long time.
“I’m a person that likes people. If they like what I like then we click,” Louise said.
Louise never married or had any children, but her life has touched people all over the world. On her 100th birthday, over 100 people attended, including two of her long-time friends from Australia.
As a 101-year-old, Louise is bright as ever, and enjoying her time at Merrill Gardens, where she’s lived for 12 years. Louise has also been featured several times in Renton Reporter, for her service and participating in an honor flight to Washington D.C.
All three women aren’t sure how they got to be centenarians, and they don’t have any tips for us. But this Thanksgiving holiday, their families and friends are grateful for the history their lives can tell for those around them.
“I’m grateful for everyday. The people I’ve met, I’m thankful for all the things I’ve been given. Even though I came from a coal miner’s family, I know I came from a blessed life,” Louise said at the end of her interview. “So there you go.”