■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
A couple of days ago I sat down for lunch with a lovely young lady and helped her and her friends celebrate her 104th birthday at Brookdale Sunwest assisted living in Hemet. It was a blissfully sunny afternoon and the warmth from outside filtered in through dining room windows, encompassing the cheerful event dedicated to Laverne Requarth and her day.
Perhaps her hearing is a tad diminished but she is as bright and alert as a 100-watt light bulb, beaming and enjoying all the attention.
“Why would anyone want to interview me?” she asked when I sat down with my trusty tape recorder to take in her words of centenarian wisdom.
“Because it is rare for anyone to live so long and still know what’s going on around them,” I replied. Trust me, she was aware of her surroundings and knew every guest’s name.
“Where did you originate,” I asked, somewhat tongue in cheek.
“I came down from the mountain, like Moses. I was born in Montrose, Colorado and I got good genes.”
She claimed to be a lucky young lady because, “when I was 10 the family doctor told my folks that if they wanted me to survive they needed to get me down from the mountains.”
Shortly thereafter the family moved to Los Angeles. Asked to what she owes her longevity, with a wicked wink in her eye, she quickly quipped. “I was always a good girl and never told a lie.”
When one of her friends gave her a disbelieving raised eyebrow, she responded, “Well, most of the time.
“Good luck has followed me all my life. I kept busy. I went to school and when I graduated I had the good fortune to secure a job at Ivers Department Store. A wonderful man with a good sense of humor owned it. I always wondered how he seemed to have such a good family life. He was a Mason; his wife was Catholic.” Usually that is not the best mix for marriage, but she allowed that they seemed to be happy. “None of my business if they had arguments across the dinner table.”
When better opportunities presented themselves, she took advantage. She took a business course and upon graduation applied at Firestone Rubber Company where she worked for a number of years.
“I got married while I worked there,” she said. “That wasn’t the best decision I ever made.”
She confessed to a second marriage.
“I made a mistake the first time,” she admitted. “It is true that the second time around is the best. It sure was for me.” Back in those days divorce was frowned upon and women often hid the fact, just as so many female film stars hid their children because “movie stars didn’t have kids.”
“Are you sure you’re interested in all this stuff?” she asked. I assured her that I was indeed. Her friends all nodded their assent.
“We want to know what you’re hiding,” a 92-year-old gentleman asked, which brought on a round of light laughter.
“I eventually left Firestone and went to work for two wonderful men who owned the Garden Grove Sanitarium. I’d been there for a while when, one day, I asked if I could see them in their private office.”
They were curious as to why she would want to see them in private. “When the door was closed behind us I made a confession. ‘When I came to work here I was a married woman. I didn’t tell you that I have since divorced my husband.” She didn’t stop there. “How do you feel about a divorced woman working for you?” She’d already been scanning the Los Angeles Times want ads, just in case. “I figured I’d be looking for another position in short order.”
Not so. The gentlemen, she says, told her that “You are welcome here. We’re building the new Greenbrier Restaurant on the premises and there’s a vacant room upstairs for you to use any way you’d like.”
“That was another lucky day for me because it led to something even better.” She moved on to another medical facility. “I eventually ended my work career in a convalescent home when I met the wonderful man who would become my second husband.”
Her new husband was a colonel in the U.S. Army, so they traveled a lot.
“He’d been there on D-Day in World War II and been all over the world,” she recalled. “My life began all over again in 1970. We did everything together. I felt like a teenage bride. He was a gentleman and very considerate. Our marriage lasted many years.”
I wondered how many pensions she might be receiving since she had such a long life and worked a long time at different jobs.
“Just Social Security and part of my husband’s pension from the Army.” With a sly grin she added, “But I put away my own nest egg.”
Being so active I wondered if she and her husband had been night-lifers.
“Not really. We did do a lot of dancing though and won a lot of prizes.
An avid tennis player, she said, “I probably owe a lot of my long and healthy life to the tennis courts. That, and a good sense of humor inherited from my father.”
When I told her I’d like to take a photo of her and her friends for the article, she quipped, “Sure you’re ready to break the camera lens?”
All in all, I asked how she felt about the current state of affairs in our country and the world. She was right on top of it.
“Disgusting. Never seen anything like it before. I hope we can all get together and straighten out the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”
Anybody that sane and knowledgeable might just live another 10 years — and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Helluva hundred and four years she’s had.