Murillian “Mimi” Allen was 6 years old on Aug. 18, 1920, when the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
But she doesn’t quite recall that historical moment.
“I was too young. My mother could go out and vote,” she said. She believes her first election was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who held office from 1933 to 1945.
Those were just a few tidbits that Allen discussed about her life at her 105th birthday celebration on Monday, held at Brookdale Vancouver Stonebridge, a facility that specializes in care for seniors experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. She has lived there for about six months, according to her family.
At 27 years past the average life expectancy in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Allen was all smiles as her facility friends enjoyed cake and ice cream in her honor. She was showered with hand-drawn cards from residents of other Brookdale facilities across the U.S., as well as from children in the Vancouver community.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, when asked the standard question for those who defy the odds with their will to live: What’s the secret?
“I guess it just runs in the family,” Allen said.
Her sister, Pauline, who lives near San Diego, turns 99 on Aug. 11, Tammie Gower said.
Allen has lived in Washington, specifically in Washougal, since 2001, after spending more than 50 years in New Mexico. Her husband, who she met and married during World War II, died in 1985. Her grandson, granddaughter-in-law and two granddaughters live in Clark County.
In her past, Allen enjoyed working with textiles.
“When she moved up here, we had 15 or 16 sheep, so I was like, ‘This is perfect. We have wool for you, Grandma. Spin away,’ ” said granddaughter-in-law Tammie Gower, 59.
“She lived pretty independent until she was 99,” said her grandson, Rob Gower, 51. At that point, she had a fall and broke her hip.
Nonetheless, Allen is still very mobile. On Monday, she pushed herself along in a walker decorated with flowers.
“We’re not surprised by anything anymore. We’re just along for the ride at this point,” Rob Gower said. After enjoying treats in the dining room, Tammie and Rob Gower, and great-granddaughter Rachel Gower, 24, retreated to Allen’s room. They were later joined by great-granddaughter Kyla Gower, 25.
They then powered up tools to communicate with Allen’s daughter Jane — first a smartphone, until they could get FaceTime operating on an iPad. Allen wasn’t fazed by any of it.
In fact, she had sent emails in her 90s, Tammie Gower said.
“My brother-in-law pointed out last Christmas how weird it is that she was born at a time where they lived on a farm and rode in a horse and carriage. She was sitting on the couch, and her great-grandkids were buzzing drones around the living room. She’s seen a lot of innovation and change and technology. It’s crazy. She used to get on the computer and do email, which just cracked us up,” Rob Gower said.
Naomi Peters, 27, a worker at the senior center, described Allen as “always being in a good mood. She forgets where she is sometimes, but she’s very do-it-herself.”
Allen forgets sometimes because she has dementia.
“But for having dementia, she’s very slow progressing. She’s still able to handle conversations and recall things and do things on her own,” Peters said.
In the bedroom, Allen recalled her time living in Illinois, where she was born, as well as working in St. Louis, Mo., where she went to a pattern drafting school. She also talked about visiting Ireland, where she has roots on her father’s side, and even became a dual citizen there this year, Tammie Gower said.
One thing Allen often repeated was that she just has to “keep going.”
“I can go around and do what I want to do. I guess I’ll just have to keep going,” she said.
Peters said that as far as she knows, Allen is the only centenarian in the building.
“Unless she falls or there’s something abnormal that happens, she’s going to live a number of years. She’s very healthy, she’s very active, and she still eats and drinks well. She still gets her sleep which is saying something around here. She’s very aware of herself and her body and she’s very good at communicating that,” Peters said. “When she hits 108, I’ll call you again.”