Each day’s a blessing for Auburn’s Olive Orr, age 100

Community Portrait
By: Story and photograph Michael Kirby
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“I’m a tough old lady, a tough old bird,” Auburn’s Olive Orr joked. Orr just passed a milestone few people achieve — she turned 100 years of age on Oct. 15. Orr doesn’t believe she did anything special to reach the century mark; she never really gave it a second thought that she would live to be 100. Orr didn’t drink much and never smoked. “I’ve always have been very healthy and I was blessed with good genes,” she said. Friends and family had a nice little gathering for her on her birthday and she received cards from many friends with congratulations. Orr was born in Oakland in 1912. William Taft was president of the United States at the time, though Woodrow Wilson would soon be sworn in as the 28th president of the United States shortly after she was born. Henry Ford was just getting going with mass-producing the Model T in 1908 and the Wright Brothers had made their first flight in 1903. Singers Woody Guthrie and Perry Como share Orr’s birth year along with golfer Ben Hogan and artist Jackson Pollack. Orr’s father was an engineer with Southern Pacific Railroad. Orr’s mother died tragically during the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 that swept across the world. Orr lived in a Salvation Army home until her father remarried and then he died in 1926 when she was 14 years old. “I had good parents, I just didn’t have them long enough,” she said. Orr got married in 1929 at 16 years old — the year the stock market crashed — and did not finish high school. Her husband grew up on the same street as Orr in Oakland. The Orrs weathered the Great Depression better than most because Orr’s husband, Mansel, worked for General Motors assembling automobiles though times were tough. There was mandatory rationing and the Orrs stood in line for butter and meat and other staples. Orr took job in a bakery. Orr never got a drivers license or learned to drive a car and her family never had a car until she was married. “Life was slower back then,” Orr said. In 1950, Orr and her husband moved to Reno, and they operated the Sky View Motel for 35 years in downtown Reno. The Orrs celebrated their 25th anniversary at the Golden nightclub in Reno, a fancy place in 1954. She was married for 53 years until her husband died in 1984. Orr moved to Auburn in 1986 where she has lived since. Orr is an active, spunky, energetic woman. Going into her 101st year, her memory is still sharp as she recalls the details of her life. She has a weekly hair styling appointment that she never misses, and makes regular visits to her doctors and the dentist. She’s made a few trips over the years with family, remembering great vacations to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii and a few cruises. Orr cites the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001 as one of the most disastrous events of her lifetime and Ronald Reagan was her favorite president. If she has any complaints it’s that she can’t do some things that she used to like. She no longer can keep house, something she took great joy in, but she does take care of her cat and puts on her face every day. Her morning routine includes making coffee and oatmeal. She likes watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Dancing with the Stars” on television. Her favorite music is jazz and Big Band tunes. Orr never thought she would live to be 100 years old and she seems very content with her life. “All the years, every year, I just took pride in the fact that I was still here,” she said. “Every day I get up is a good day.” When asked what she looks forward to nowadays Orr replied with a chuckle, “I keep wondering what is going to take me.” Orr lives with her only daughter, Jeanne, who is 82 and they take care of each other. Their home is comfortable, and neat.