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She sat in her room gazing at the winter scene just outside, hands folded in her lap. Her eyes were clear and bright, she had a nice smile that made visitors feel at ease.

Her experiences have been as vast as the Washington state wilderness.

“I’m surprised I’ve lived this long,” she said matter-of-factly, almost articulate.

Marjory Helgeson turns 100 years old on Sunday.

“She’ll be a great, great grandma when the baby comes in May,” said her son Cliff, whose grandson Bryce and his wife are expecting.

She has seen so much change in her lifetime. Where her grandchildren and great grand children have access to the internet, telephone, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter through a device they carry in the pocket of their pants, she has lived through times when the first black and white television was introduced to American families, then color. She used to listen to the radio before all of that.

To say Marjory grew up in simpler times wouldn’t necessarily be true. Less technical maybe, but they were anything but simple. She lost her mother at the age of 5. As was the practice in the late 1920s, her mothers sisters, even her father’s sisters, moved into the house to help raise her while her father worked the farm, growing wheat and barley.

“The farm was in a community called Sunset. It was just a wide spot in the dirt,” she recalled.

Some of her fondest memories of those times growing up on the farm near St. John in the rolling hills of the Palouse region of Eastern Washington were of a horse named Ruby. Ruby was not just the name of the old mare, but the color that shined in the sun on a summer’s day.

Ruby was 27 years old when they bought her. They didn’t have a horse trailer or flatbed, she explained, so her father drove the family car to where she was being kept, hooked her up with a halter, tied it to the mirror and drove off down the country road with the horse trotting along beside.

“I think he drove 5 miles an hour all the way home,” Marjory said, looking out the window with a smile on her face, recalling something as if it were yesterday.

“She was a good ol’ gal. I used to ride her to school. There was a farm in town where I would drop her off while I went to class. Then when school was out, I’d go over and get her and ride back home. It was two miles to my farm, when I didn’t ride Ruby to school I walked. That was quite a ways for a 6-year-old, but dad was kind of stubborn and wouldn’t give me a ride in the car. So, mostly I rode Ruby.”

Her smile widened again with the memory of her old friend.

“During the summer during harvest, Ruby would follow the harvester around and around,” she said. “I guess she just wanted something to do.”

Marjory has lived through the Great Depression and Prohibition. She remembers a time when the great pandemic called Polio ravaged the United States. Her husband Clarence served in both World War II and Korea. Her son Cliff later followed in his father’s footsteps, serving a tour in Vietnam.

Simpler times? Not particularly.

“We never experienced the Great Depression living on the farm,” she explained. “We had everything we needed. We sold wheat. We sold butter. We grew other vegetables, so we managed. I think it says a lot about farmers, we were pretty self-sufficient.”

She has lived through the development of some amazing things that came to pass in the 20th Century. Things like television, color television, electric appliances, and later computers, the internet, the world wide web, cellular telephones.

“I remember our first black and white television back in 1954,” Cliff said with a laugh. “It was just this little box the size of a computer screen. I think we used to watch Tex Ritter.”

It’s come a long way since she gathered with her family and listened to radio programs on the phonograph.

“The women were all in the kitchen, but the men would sit around and listen to the phonograph,” she recalled. “I remember when (President Herbert) Hoover was elected, because he was a relative.

“Our family had the only radio, so we were all sitting around the radio listening to the inauguration. It was pretty exciting.”

She eventually made her way to Ellensburg to attend Washington State Normal School (Central Washington University). After a while, Marjory gave up her studies and got a job at a bank, where she met her husband Clarence, who was working at Carl Ostrander’s pharmacy.

Clarence or “Helgy” as he was called, started working at Ostrander’s in 1935 as a stock boy during his high school years. He later graduated from Ellensburg High School and then Washington State College with a pharmacist’s degree. Helgeson worked at Ostander’s two years and was later called to serve in the U.S. Navy. He returned to the store in 1946.

The Helgeson’s lived in Ellensburg since 1941. Clarence passed at the age of 97.

It’s been a good life for a woman that used to ride her horse to school as a kid and listen to the radio before TV. On Sunday, she’ll be surrounded by family to celebrate her 100th birthday, just a few steps into 2022. Life is good.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at