201 Years

Meet Doris and Glennie, two of Lakeland’s centenarians

photography by Tiffani Jones
special thanks to Ashley Metts-Miller at Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE)

The past quietly observes us from the walls as 101-year-old Doris settles into her faded recliner. As we chat, faces of grandparents and siblings look on, seeming to lean in, hoping to hear their names mentioned during our conversation.

Doris, who’s been blind for 14 years and brusquely reminds me to speak up, has plenty to say. Her slight frame is brimming with a fiery, independent spirit. She’s seen a lot.

Born in 1914 in Rochester, New York, Doris lived with her parents and two younger siblings. She says she didn’t have a particularly remarkable childhood; she read a copious amount of books and played on the local girls’ basketball and softball teams. Her parents died in 1938, leaving Doris with the responsibility of ensuring her brother and sister were well-educated, just as she was. After three years of training at St. Joseph’s hospital, she became a registered nurse.

“I loved helping people,” Doris says when asked what she liked most about her job.

The joy she found in helping others led her to private duty caring for orphans at a center for unwed mothers outside of Buffalo. She continued to focus on excelling in her field, attending conferences and remaining active in the Industrial Nurse’s Association. She was determined to be independent, which she credits to growing up during the Depression. At the time, she said the thought of growing old terrified her.

“I always thought, ‘What’s going to happen? Am I going to have to work forever?’ So I worked hard. I was able to save money, and I’ve never had to borrow a nickel from anyone.”

Doris moved to Lakeland with her husband in 1976. She recalls driving behind citrus trucks, watching fruit cascade out and bounce along the road after a sharp turn. Everyone would jump out of the car and quickly gather as much fallen fruit as they could before rushing to get back in.

When asked how Lakeland has changed, she pauses, seeming unable to pinpoint what she’d like to say.

“I haven’t been out much in the last 14 years, but I know downtown has changed.”

She goes on to tell me about the Mark One Dinner Theater, which closed in 1987.

“[At the Mark One Dinner Theater], they’d serve you a lovely meal while you watched a stage show. The building was awful, though! If it rained during the show, they had to put pails out to catch the water.” — Doris

“You had to go downstairs into the theater; they’d serve you a lovely meal while you watched a stage show. The building was awful, though! If it rained during the show, they had to put pails out to catch the water.”

The change Doris is most passionate about is not a physical change, however. She says personal relationships have changed dramatically, and for the worse, because of technology.

“I was recently in the hospital, and it was the worst experience of my life. The computers went down and no one knew what was going on. They couldn’t do anything. They didn’t know who anyone was. It was ridiculous. There’s no more personal contact with people. Believe me, you’ll learn more from giving a patient a bath and having a conversation with him than you will from a file on a computer. Personal contact is more important than machines.”

Doris feels she’s lived a successful life, and she’s proud of her hard work and self-reliance. Her advice to younger generations is sternly given. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be around, so save your money! But be careful where you put it and whom you trust.”

Living a long life, however, has been hard. Doris’ clouded eyes reflexively glance downward as she says, “When you’re no longer independent, when all of your friends are gone … it’s not funny. It’s depressing.”

The next afternoon, I knock on another stranger’s front door, which opens to reveal a wheeled walker being pushed by a tiny woman wearing a huge smile on her face. This is Glennie, born in 1915 in Indiana, Pennsylvania. She lived in a farmhouse with her parents, the only child of a relationship that ended when she was in first grade.

I ask what she remembers most about her childhood in relation to history and technological advances.

“Airplanes,” she says. “As a kid, whenever one would fly over, everybody would drop what they were doing to rush outside and stare up at the sky.” She also remembers Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Glennie married for the first time in 1932. Her first husband served in World War II, and while he was away, she worked as a waitress at a local Moose Club. She tells me she was always working. “I did anything I could find that was honest! I waited tables, worked in factories, and cleaned.”

She moved here in 1985 with her second husband and says Lakeland has grown in every way imaginable — the buildings, roads, and especially the traffic. The one thing she misses is the bowling alley that used to be on the corner of Edgewood Drive and Bartow Highway.

Glennie only recently stopped driving, giving up her car at the age of 98. She relies on friends and Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE) to help her get around. When I ask her what the best and worst parts of getting older are, she doesn’t hesitate.

“Oh, the best part is my family! There are five generations of us. The worst part? I don’t think there is one. I’ve had my troubles, but God always saw me through.”

Glennie’s solid faith is laced throughout our conversation. She frequently finishes a thought by giving God credit for her happiness. She laughingly adds that her life has been successful because she’s never been fired from a job or spent a day in jail. We move on to talk about how the elderly are treated in our society. “People assume that just because I’m old, I don’t know what’s going on and they can do whatever they want with me. Have a little respect — we do know what we want!”

As our conversation comes to an end, she tells me about her daily life. She enjoys visiting with friends, going out to lunch, and playing card games on her computer. She and Doris share an opinion about how technology has contributed to the decline of personal relationships.

“These people that sit around with little square things on their laps! There’s one screen here, one screen there. They’re talking to each other through little squares instead of faceto-face. They’re missing everything. They don’t see the beauty in the world. They don’t see the flowers, the green grass, the sky … everything!”

On my way out the door, I catch myself checking my phone for notifications. I switch it off, drop it into my bag, and vow not to touch it for the rest of the day. I don’t want to miss anything.