- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - She always enjoys a fashionable new dress. She’s a stickler for starting every day with makeup and hair styling. And she has a knack for making friends.

In a lot of ways, you’d never guess that Thelma Austin is planning to celebrate her 105th birthday March 16.

Sure, the years do show in her failing eyes and ears, her wheelchair - and her status as the senior resident at the nursing home now known as River North of Bradley. Obviously, she has had to endure the death of hundreds of friends and family. Her step-daughter Levona Flanigan, for example, died 10 years ago - at the age of 86.

She also misses a brother and a sister. Her husband, William, died in 1992. She’s been a widow for 22 years.

But, even in her second century, Thelma’s life is far from empty. She still has a wealth of stories to share. Her friends say she still has the same sense of humor and a positive outlook on life.

“She used to be the bookkeeper at the old Alden’s Department Store (at Schuyler Avenue and Merchant Street),” her granddaughter Barb Carol, of Racine, Wis., said. “Maybe that’s where she developed her love of fashion.”

Don’t assume, though, that Thelma is “prissy.” When she was looking for something to do with her retirement time, she decided one summer - at the age of 72 - to paint her house. And she did, on her own.

“She has a great memory,” said Tara Prue, a staff member at the nursing home and a longtime friend. “She can tell you about World War II and World War I. She remembers the Depression. But she has all kinds of information on old Kankakee.

“She even told me where the old brothels used to be.”

Thelma was born in downstate Hurst, and moved to Kankakee in the 1920s. She didn’t have children of her own but raised William’s from a previous marriage.

“She has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. And I can tell you we grandchildren always loved being with them,” said Carol. “They were always taking us kids on trips. They took me to Florida one year. They took my sister to Texas and my brother to California. They loved to travel.”

In fact, Thelma had a passion for all sort of things. People were eager to buy her crocheted items. Her family loved her fried chicken. She enjoyed picking berries. And she and William loved visiting Chicago, taking in plays or maybe showing grandchildren Lake Michigan.

“I think what she likes best is to shop,” said Prue. “I remember, when she was 97. She was still living on her own. She usually had friends who would come over and take her out. But one day she got dressed up nice and just got on the (River Valley) Metro bus and rode around town.

“I think she just shopped and talked with people. She had no fear.”


Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1dZ90h4


Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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