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News flash: (Longtime former Yuman) Lucille Ball turns 100
Lucille Ball is alive and extremely well. In fact, she just celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends at her home in an assisted living facility in Tucson.
The paparazzi did not attend.
However, a few folks did travel from Yuma to celebrate with Lucille, a former Yuman who went by the nickname “Hollywood” when she worked at several local grocery stores from the 1950s to 1979.
“Even the (A.J. Bayless store) manager called me ‘Hollywood,'” said the spry centurion via cell phone. “They didn't ever call me by my name. They all knew my name because I knew all of the customers there in Yuma.”
Back then, the friendly, black-haired cashier used to get a kick out of customers alluding to the actress Lucille Ball by saying, “Hey, where's Desi?” or “Where's your red hair?”
That was her real name when she first arrived in the Yuma area in 1945. But after she remarried many years later, her name changed to Lucille Ball Teel.
And “now of course, my hair is white,” she said.
Her son, Bill Ball, 66, a former Yuma police officer now living in Tucson, said to her on May 21 that she was going to be 100 in a few days and asked her how that felt.
“Well, I love to live,” she replied. “I'm not done yet. I've surely learned a little in this time.”
One of the things she's learned is “how to live and be happy,” she said during her cell phone interview. She said the secret to a happy life is to “choose to live the best way you know how. I grew up going to church and Sunday school and have always been a busy, busy person.”
Not only is it important to have religion and to stay busy, but also to make time for fun, she said. “You know what they say, that all work and no play is not good for you.”
She said that's something she learned early in life and “I've always been that way.”
While living in Yuma, she enjoyed cooking, reading, rock hunting, traveling and gardening. She grew vegetables and flowers and was known for her beautiful roses.
She also loved fishing and camping with her family on the Colorado River, where they had a cabin, as well as on the beaches of nearby San Felipe, Mexico, nearly every weekend.
Her life began in Maud, Okla., on May 24, 1912. Her parents, J.R. and Kate McCullough, named her Mary Lucille McCullough. When she was 4 years old, her brother Ralph joined the family and remained very close to her until his death in 2007.
Her father worked in a sawmill, and later, because he had only a third-grade education, she read to him to teach him the things he needed to know to become a certified railroad engineer.
When she was a teenager, the family owned a car that Kate learned to start with a pair of scissors, so unbeknownst to J.R., she and Lucille enjoyed many driving excursions together.
Although Lucille “Hollywood” Ball never aspired to go to Hollywood, she was an actress in her right as a charter member of the Black Masque Drama Club while attending high school in nearby Haileyville, Okla.
“I acted in all the plays that we had in high school. I loved it.”
She graduated from Haileyville High School with full academic honors in 1929, along with 19 other graduates.
Lucille married her high school sweetheart, Basil Ward, and in 1932 they had a daughter, Shirley. Five years later, they moved to New York City and had their second daughter, Gwendolyn.
When asked what NYC was like at that time, she replied: “Well, New York's New York, you know. There's a lot to be seen and done. I enjoyed everything.
“The first thing I remember seeing really well was the Statue of Liberty, and when you go down to the bridge, the statue's right there. I loved seeing it. And the U.S. Navy fleet came in and sailed up right on the Hudson River … The sailors on the ships were out standing on the deck and waving at us.”
She managed the dairy department at an A&P Market, but when her marriage began to fail, she returned to Oklahoma in 1943. Then, while working as a cashier at a grocery store, she met Paul Ball, whom she married in 1945.
That same year, they moved to the Yuma area.
She and Paul had two sons, Bill in 1946 and John in 1947. She enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom until Paul broke his back in a vehicle accident while on the way home from an out-of-town job.
That's when she went to work at the newly opened A.J. Bayless store during actress Lucille Ball's heyday. Although Paul recovered and was able to return to work, Lucille continued to work because she loved it so much, Bill said. “She's an extremely outgoing person who has to be around people.”
She also worked at L&R Market, which was later named Robert's Market, Nissen's Market and the MCAS Commissary. Later in life, she served several terms as president of the local AARP Chapter.
Paul died in 1980. But Lucille was a pretty woman with a great personality who had attracted men all her life, and she was so full of life that it was no surprise when she married Arnold Dickerson in 1984, Bill said.
She was widowed again in 1987 but married William Teel in 1998. He died just months after the wedding, but her love of life, sheer determination and involvement with her ever-growing family kept her going, Bill said.
Including a stepson by her marriage to Paul, she had five children, nine grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. “I just love all of them,” she said.
Many of them, spanning three generations, joined her recently for lunch and cake in celebration of her 100th birthday.
Bill said, “It's incredible to have a 100-year-old parent. She's the first one in the family that I know of who has lived that long.”
He just took her to her doctor for a well checkup and said she's very healthy. He attributes her long, healthy life to her style of living: hard work, good food and honest living. “She never smoked, she never drank.”
He also credits her longevity to her love of family and her family values.
She moved to an assisted living facility in Mesa in 2006, though her children maintained her Yuma home until last year, when it sold and she moved to Tucson.
Her philosophy on life, Bill says, is to live life to the fullest, which she still does at age 100. She is very active in her retirement community and always participates in its scheduled activities such as exercise sessions and outings to places like the Tucson Botanical Garden.
She also enjoys spontaneous, non-programmed activities. Recently after walking her around the assisted living complex, Bill walked her past the entryway, where several residents were sitting. He asked her she wanted to go inside or sit outside with the other residents.
“I'll sit outside,” she replied. “Maybe I can get some life into them.”
During her cell phone interview, Lucille talked about the many changes she's seen over the past century. For one thing, “When we had a phone, we didn't carry it in our pocket. We put it up on the wall.”
She said the most significant change she has seen is the way people act toward others. They're not as dependable or hardworking as they were in the past, she said. “And they weren't wild and drinking and things like that all the time.”
Positive changes she has seen include increased educational and job opportunities for young people and the advent of modern technology, which she thinks is necessary and wonderful but also complicated.
She never imagined living to be 100. “I never even gave it a thought. You just live one day at a time. The past is past and history, and tomorrow is a mystery, so you live in today.”
She can be contacted at Lucille Ball Teel, 5830 N. Fountains Ave. #128, Tucson, AZ 85704, or 1-520-591-9601 (Bill's cell phone).