The weather Friday was cold, but that didn’t stop family and friends of June Syverson from driving by the South Hill Rockwood Senior Community to wish her a happy 100th birthday.
Syverson sat outside bundled in warm clothes, swaddled in warmed blankets and perched between two outdoor heaters to wave and smile at everyone as they drove by. “It was a lot of fun,” Syverson said.
Her daughter, Janie O’Brien, said she appreciated the staff allowing her mother to have her celebration. However, a recent case of COVID-19 at the facility meant that all Syverson’s appointments to meet in person with family members on the outdoor patio were canceled.
“Rockwood was very kind to let her come down and be a part of that,” she said of the parade.
Plenty of people came to drive by and wave, including several from Berean Bible Church and South Hill Bible Church, both in which Syverson has been involved.
“She was so pleased,” O’Brien said. “A lot of people came from both of her churches. I bet there were 100 people that came through.”
O’Brien said she describes her mother as a character and as spunky. She’s also a woman of deep faith. “She never makes any decision without prayer first,” she said.
She also describes her mother as selfless. “She never is first,” she said. “She always puts herself last.”
Syverson grew up in Spokane with the exception of one year spent in Lewiston. She attended Finch and Audubon elementary schools and Havermale Middle School before moving to Spokane Valley. She graduated from West Valley High School.
She went to business school, where she learned how to be a comptometer operator. A comptometer is a large, mechanical calculator. She worked at General Bank and a Safeway pharmacy for a short time. “We knew how to handle those machines,” she said.
She and her husband John were high school sweethearts. They met their sophomore year, but didn’t start dating until the end of their junior year.
“He was always a gentleman and had wonderful family relationships,” she said. “It was such a fun family. It made quite an impression on me. He just kind of grew on me.”
He also made her laugh. “He had a wonderful sense of humor and a quick wit,” she said. “Our courting years were full of laughter.”
They both attended Washington State College until her husband joined the Army Air Corps in World War II and trained as a B-17 and B-29 pilot. He was stationed in Nebraska and Mississippi as a training pilot. As he was preparing to come home on a three-day leave, he told Syverson they’d waited long enough and should get married while he was home.
“He said ‘You have three days to get ready,’ ” she said.
With no time for the usual niceties like mailed invitations, Syverson started inviting people to the quickly planned ceremony by phone. They were married on June 1, 1944.
“It turned out just great,” she said.
After the war he worked as an appliance manager at The Crescent department store. But he became convinced there wasn’t any room for upward advancement, so he hatched another idea: an egg farm.
“When he said farming, I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. I’m a city girl,’” Syverson said.
The couple met with another couple they knew who managed an egg farm in the Spokane Valley . And there just happened to be some land for sale down the road.
“We bought that property and my husband designed a special cage for a volume of birds,” she said.
The couple soon owned 40,000 laying hens. They read books and educated themselves on the business.
“We learned all about that kind of farming,” she said. “I became Mrs. Eggs.”
The couple raised two children; son, John Jay, and daughter, Janie.
“We helped out on the chicken farm, too,” O’Brien said. “I loved growing up on the farm. Our nearest neighbors were half-a-mile away.”
They owned the farm for 22 years, then began selling off the property as mobile home sites. The couple moved to the Rockwood Retirement Community in 1990, where Syverson still has the same kitchen table the family used in the farmhouse.
When Syverson was in her 60s a friend suggested they take up golf as an outdoor activity to keep themselves active.
“My family put together the most motley set of clubs you’d ever see or play with,” she said.
When it became clear that golf was something she enjoyed, she invested in a new set of clubs and kept on playing. She often played in Liberty Lake, then joined a 9-hole golf group that met at the Hangman Valley Golf Course. She played every season until last year, insisting she be allowed to chase down her own ball, even if it landed in a bunker.
“I’m a fair-weather golfer now,” she said.
O’Brien said her grandfather liked to golf, but he died before Syverson took up the game.
“Her regret was that she didn’t get to play golf with her father,” she said.
Syverson’s husband died in 2011 after a long illness, and Syverson was involved in his care until the end.
“Looking after him mostly meant getting him to a wheelchair and getting him out into the gardens,” she said.
One day they happened on a rock wall that had weeds growing out of it. Her husband asked her to push his wheelchair up close so he could pull the weeds. From then on, keeping the wall clear of weeds was a task that he gave himself.
“He knew all the little flowering plants, which was a delight,” she said.
The couple were married for 66 years.
“We were very, very opposite, but we were such a team,” she said.
Syverson said she appreciated her family coming from all over, including Alaska, to see her on her big day.
“It’s hard to believe that when I say it,” she said of turning 100. “I have, all these years, taken it a day at a time.”
O’Brien said her mother has always been active and isn’t one to just sit around. For her 99th birthday celebration, she rode the carrousel in Riverfront Park.
“She’s still spry and wants to be active,” she said. “She’ll even set a time so she doesn’t stay sitting in her chair too long.”
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