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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Unsinkable pioneer spirit turns 100

UPDATED: Wed., July 26, 2017

By Suzanne Pate For The Spokesman-Review

The 100-year-old granddaughter of Spokane Valley pioneers John and Ella Shelley, Marie Shelley Olbricht, lives her life with forbearance, faith, hope and resilience – all inherited traits, say her progeny.

At Marie’s July 22 centennial celebration her family nudged their matriarch’s memory to recount the hardships and triumphs of her many years. Five generations attended, most living in the Spokane area. Marie welcomed each one from her wheelchair at a rehabilitation center where she is mending from a Mother’s Day hip fracture.

Marie spoke about working alongside her parents and brothers on the Shelley homestead, established in 1881.

“When we were growing up it was a different world,” Marie reflected. “No matter how hard things got for us, you just followed what Mom and Dad did, and went on with what they started and just kept on going,” she said.

Marie grew up in a farmhouse aside a lake on the 160-acre farm in Veradale, said Margaret Buck, Marie’s elder daughter. Sundays were days of rest, not counting chores and cooking, and riding in a horse-drawn buggy to the Trentwood church Marie’s Irish grandfather helped build.

The farm was their livelihood and family center. They shared their surplus of milk, eggs, meat and vegetables with neighbors, and some years loaded a wagon with produce to sell at market in Spokane during the Depression. Over the years parts of the property were sold off.

Before and after school, Marie spent her teenage years caring for her bedridden mother, cooking meals for her father and brothers, and keeping house as well as the farm accounts. There also was time for play in the spring meadows or ice skating on Shelley Lake.

For dependable cash in winter, the family sold blocks of ice cut from the lake.

“We all worked hard,” Marie said. “You didn’t think about it, you just did it.”

Following her mother’s death, Marie married. She continued to look after her father, and soon expanded the family to include two daughters, Margaret and Kathleen. But Marie’s husband deserted them, leaving Marie to carry on as best she could during World War II.

“Mom had to go on welfare to keep us together,” said Margaret. “She could have adopted us out, but she meant to keep us together no matter what.” When Margaret began first grade, Marie took a job at the Vera post office, accompanied by baby Kathleen. They rented a modest house across Shelley Way (now Fourth Avenue) from Marie’s father. Marie gave up her job when Kathleen became a toddling handful.

As soon as Kathleen entered school Marie took an accounting job for a buyer at the Crescent department store. She brought home returned and damaged clothing for the girls to repair and wear. Her father helped by bringing them coats culled from the Opportunity dump.

“Sometimes we were the best-dressed kids in school,” Kathleen said. “We were happy with what we had. At Christmas, we made presents for each other and sugar cookies for all the neighbors.”

The next setback arrived with a knock on the door.

“A longtime family friend told us he’d bought our house out from under us, and we had to leave right away,” Margaret recalled. “That was the lowest point, next to the day Dad left us. But Mom taught us never to give up.”

They promptly moved in with Marie’s father. He deeded her the last 2 acres of homestead land alongside his place, and Marie determined to build a house on it. A carpenter friend framed and tarpapered it, another neighbor donated durable siding for Marie to nail over the exterior. Marie did all the finish work and added a large garden of iris and gladiolas for church services.

Life was on the upswing at last. Marie met and fell in love with Lloyd Olbricht at the Crescent while he installed a telephone switchboard system. Marriage plans seemed close until Lloyd was transferred to Omak. Marie put a wedding on hold until her girls completed studies at Central Valley High School.

The girls’ graduations roughly coincided with Lloyd’s return transfer to Spokane. Marie left the Crescent and married Lloyd in 1957.

“That’s the happiest Mom was in her whole life,” Margaret noted. “But then Lloyd got sick and passed away.”

Real estate developers bought and razed all the houses around her to build apartments, forever altering the face and rural character of the area. Marie eventually sold her property, watched her house get torn down and saw her garden ripped up. She moved in with Margaret where she again will reside once her hip is healed.

“Mom never did hold a grudge, not once. She has a forgiving heart and a wonderful attitude about life. She doesn’t have hard feelings about anybody no matter the hard knocks.

“Our whole family has had some rough times in marriage and life – but then we think about all Mom did, and just buck up.”

Marie smiled broadly and said, “I’m having a real happy birthday!”

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