Most of us over 30 would rather not count the years when a birthday arrives. However, when that birthday marks 100, it’s time to celebrate! Friends, relatives and fellow garden club members were on hand Sept. 14 to cheer Dorothy Starek on as she celebrated her 100th birthday. Dressed in royal blue and sporting a glittery tiara, Dorothy was the belle of the party.
When asked how she felt reaching this special milestone, Dorothy smiled and said, “It’s amazing! I can’t believe I’m100! I never expected to live this long. It is a true blessing, just a real blessing.” Dorothy’s warm smile, sparkling eyes and sweet personality have endeared her to so many here in Yuma. Looking around the crowd, there were friends of all ages excited to help celebrate her special day.
Poet and philosopher Kahil Gibran aptly described Dorothy when he said, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you, as by the attitude you bring to life. Not so much by what happens to you, as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” Dorothy faced many challenges in her life and met each one with strong will, determination and a smile.
Born in Croatia, in 1913, Dorothy came to the U.S. when she was 7 years old. “I remember standing with my uncle on the deck of the ship and seeing the Statue of Liberty as we sailed into the harbor. I am so thankful I was able to come to America,” Dorothy said.
From Ellis Island, Dorothy went to Chicago, where she grew up in a number of foster homes. Her last foster home was with the Clark family. Paul Clark and his wife drove from Idaho to help Dorothy celebrate. Paul said: “I was born after Dorothy came to live with us, and she treated me like (she was) a big sister. She was always there when I needed help. Dorothy is one of the happiest people I know and is a special member of our family.”
“We are so appreciative of the Clarks,” said Dorothy's grandson, Brion. “They gave Dorothy a strong sense of family, a wonderful set of values and a love of God. She is so blessed to have had them in her life.”
Dorothy left the Clark family when she married her husband, Jim. His job took them to several states before they finally settled down in Yuma in 1951. They raised four children and have two daughters still residing in Yuma. Jean Rivers, instructor for the city’s Adapted Aquatics class, shared some fond memories of both Dorothy and her husband.
“Dorothy Starek is a star. What a lady! She and Jim were among the earliest members of the city's Adapted Aquatics class,” Rivers said. “Jim counted as we did our exercises and became known as "Mister 7," since we did each exercise seven times. I will never forget Dorothy’s 'Miss America' pose. She happily posed, upon request, before getting into the pool-even into her late 90s.”
When asked the secret to Dorothy’s long life, friends and family gave a variety of answers. “I think being an active garden club member helped Dorothy stay young. For many years, Dorothy was so busy helping with club activities that she didn’t have time to sit down and think about getting old,” Willene Calvert, Pecan Grove Garden Club member, said.
“She is still our historian who collects articles and information during the club year, puts it all in a notebook and presents the notebook to the president in May.”
Her daughter, Joyce, said, “Mom’s strong faith, her determination to succeed and her huge amounts of energy are keys to her long life. We called her the Energizer bunny because she was always so full of pep and energy. If she joined an organization, she participated in it fully. She never sat on the sidelines and watched.”
“Dorothy’s a wonderful person and so easy to care for,” Yolanda, her caregiver of 14 years, told me. “I think her positive outlook on life has helped her reach 100. We certainly have had some fun times together.”
“I just love Dorothy,” Sharon Jessup, fellow garden club member said. “She has touched the lives of everyone she knows. I remember back when she was called the encyclopedia lady because she was the person to go to when purchasing a set. She loves people, and I think that has helped keep her young.”
I feel the key to her long life is not just surviving, but thriving, with compassion, humor, style, generosity and kindness.
Dorothy is living the American dream, and she truly enjoys every moment of the journey. Happy Gardening! Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of MGM Garden Club.
This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.