Nita Jensen celebrated her 100th birthday last week at gatherings with friends, family and fellow residents at the Courtland Place retirement community in Spokane Valley.
Jane Walker, the program director at the independent living facility, said Jensen is a well-known resident.
“She’s spunky,” she said. “She has a vigor for life. She’s sharp as a whip, and she tells it like it is.”
The facility usually acknowledges the birthdays of the residents, but it wanted to do something special for Jensen. The facility hosted a happy hour – complete with wine and beer – on Thursday, followed by a potluck barbecue.
“She loves wine,” Walker said. “It’s the first time we’ve ever done that. She’s our first centenarian.”
Jensen grew up on a farm in Kansas, but she didn’t stay in the Midwest. She’s visited all 50 states and has lived in quite a few of them, including Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. She’s also spent some time living in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Much of the time she was traveling she was following her husband, who was a civil engineer.
She graduated from business college and attended the School of Interior Design in New York for six weeks. At one time she was a traveling saleswoman, selling beauty products door to door in five states. She also owned her own beauty salon for a time.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” she said.
When she lived in California, she was a state representative for five counties in the California Senior Legislature. After she moved to Washington 20 years ago, she served as a volunteer with the Washington State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.
One could say that Jensen is settling down in her later years.
“This is the longest I’ve been in one state, ever,” she said.
Washington has been her favorite state to live , Jensen said.
“The people here are amazing,” she said. “This is a lovely place to live. I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else. It’s a great place to have a family.”
Jensen has one son, Gary Intinarelli, whom she calls her “pride and joy.” She also has three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. Several generations of her family were there to help her celebrate, including her granddaughter Lauren Intinarelli, who lives in Pennsylvania.
Lauren Intinarelli was among those who commented on Jensen’s no-nonsense attitude, describing her as “spicy.”
“She wore red patent leather heels to our lobster dinner last night,” Lauren Intinarelli said. “She’s always dressed to the nines. She’s definitely an inspiration.”
Her son, who lives in Liberty Lake, said he enjoys having his mother just down the road instead of on the South Hill, where she used to live.
“This is much closer,” he said. “We get the chance to bring her over to the house for dinner.”
Jensen is still able to care for herself, though Gary Intinarelli said he’s been planning for the day when she might need assistance.
“We’re on a waiting list for an assisted-living place, just in case, but we haven’t had to use it,” he said.
He said he’s impressed that her memory remains sharp. She still likes to tell stories about growing up on the family farm in Kansas. “She’s remarkable,” he said.
Jensen is an avid reader, but she enjoys spending her time painting, which has been a lifelong hobby. She usually paints in oils, but she’s recently been experimenting with acrylics.
“You can use your imagination,” she said. “It’s creative. It’s a good way to pass the time.”
Jensen said she’s grateful that Courtland Place, where she’s lived for three years, hosted a birthday celebration for her. She described the residents as close-knit and said people look out for one another.
“Time goes so fast here,” she said. “It has to be the greatest place ever if you have to give up your house.”
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