Alice Hande and Jerry Lou Hawkins live just down the hall from each other at Harvard Park, a Holiday retirement community on Spokane’s South Hill, but until last week they hadn’t seen each other in months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A special occasion, however, brought them together for a brief reunion. Hande turned 101 on Tuesday and Hawkins, who has lived in the community since 2006, turned 100 on Monday.
The women met when they began eating at the same table in the dining room after Hande moved to the facility in 2011.
“She was a good friend of Helen Reed, who I knew from my parish,” Hande said. “We had dinner together every night. Our lives are so different. I had six kids, and she didn’t have any. We have lots to talk about.”
Hawkins said she’s impressed by how Hande can easily recall trivia about movies that came out 50 years ago.
“She’s a neat lady,” Hawkins said. “She’s an easy person to be with. She’s very knowledgeable. She has the most fabulous memory of anyone I know.”
Hande said she was happy to make a new friend. “When you live as long as I have, I lost all my other friends,” she said.
But lately the two have been limited to phone conversations. “Since we’ve had this pandemic, we’ve had to stay apart,” Hande said.
Hawkins said she misses their nightly dinners together. “I miss that association,” she said.
She’s a social person and said she misses being able to freely interact with people. “I have to get out and see people,” she said.
When the two women saw each other after months apart, they clasped hands. “Hi, kiddo,” said Hawkins. “How are you?”
The two are appreciative of the extra attention they’ve gotten because of their birthdays this week, but it’s not the same as it might have been if there wasn’t a pandemic.
“I had a big party last year at 100,” Hande said. “It was great. It’s like going to your own funeral, but you’re there to enjoy it.”
The women may be good friends, but their backgrounds are very different. Hande was a school teacher for 20 years and raised six children. She didn’t learn how to drive until she was in her 40s. Her husband, George Woodrow Hande, served in the Navy and during World War II Hande worked with the Army Corps of Engineers who helped build the Hanford Nuclear facility.
Her husband died of a heart attack when he was 64. The couple had been married for 38 years. “I never married again,” she said. “Once was enough.”
Hawkins worked as a secretary for various companies during her working life. When she lived in Olympia she worked for an electric company. She also worked in the Statehouse for a few years. When she lived in California, she worked for Eastman Kodak. She and her husband, Robert, were married for 39 years. He died 20 years ago.
People who are 100 years old are often asked their secret to living so long. Hande said she thinks it’s because she’s been active her whole life. She even took up painting in her later years, creating lovely watercolor paintings that now hang on her walls.
“I’ve had a lot of different activities in my life,” she said. “I think that’s what keeps you going.”
Hawkins said she doesn’t have a secret. “I have no idea,” she said. “I’ve always been healthy. I still am pretty healthy; except I have bad knees. I still am able to get around with my walker.”
But bad knees and all, Hawkins will be first in line to go back to the dining room when it opens again, ready to sit down at the table with Hande and start swapping stories again.
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