Family and friends gathered in a conference room at Wood Manor nursing home Thursday afternoon to celebrate the 107th birthday of the much beloved Louise Summers.
Although her hearing and memory were a little worn from abundant use, her children and grandchildren helped her paint a colorful portrait of a long life well lived.
Louise was born in 1911 in Portland, Indiana, the oldest of seven siblings. When she was young the family moved to Sperry, Okla., so her father could work as a foreman on the oil field. Louise remembers a time when they squeezed their large family into a small oil field camp house on the oil field site near Sperry, where her mom made her sweep the dirt floors so that all the dirt was at least facing the same direction.
Louise remembers her mother’s chicken noodle soup, which brought people from all over the camp to their kitchen table. She recounted how during the Great Depression she and her neighbors were lucky because everybody had a small patch of ground to grow food and keep chickens.
As they got into their teen and young adult years Louise and her sisters became known about town as “The Jet-Set from Bird Creek.” They were mostly called that by the flirtatious boys who quickly became Louise’s brothers-in-law. Two of Louise’s brothers and two of her brothers-in-law fought in World War II. Although the family worried, all four came home.
As a young woman Louise sang in the church choir and won rollerskating contests. She remained an active member in the Methodist church all her life and made many life-long friends who still come to visit and send her cards.
Louise can’t recall the exact moment when she first met her husband Sparky, but that’s due more to the nature of how the met and fell in love than to any lapse in memory.
“Oh, he was probably delivering groceries,” Louise recalled.
The couple married and had two children, Bob and Barbra.
Louise and Sparky bought his father’s grocery store in Chelsea and worked it for many years. It was a long, narrow brick building on Main Street. Sparky was the butcher and Louise the cashier.
Louise’s grandson Bo recalled playing like customers at their parent’s store, pulling things off the shelves and sticking them in a grocery cart.
“She would go around the store after we’d moved on to something else and restock all the shelves by herself,” Bo laughed.
Bo also recounted how they didn’t have a train near their home, so any time they visited grandma’s house she memorized the train schedule and would take them out by the tracks to watch the train go by.
And during Thanksgiving Louise would tell the kids how she had to chase the turkey clear around the house two or three or seven times before they got there in order to catch and cook it.
They had plenty of happy times with their family in Chelsea, but then Sparky took ill in the late 1960s.
They sold the store and planned on an early retirement. Then Sparky passed away in 1971.
Louise moved in with Barbra and her husband Tom in Claremore, and in an effort to fill her free time she took a short job as a salesperson at the Pennys in downtown Claremore.
“I got the biggest sale while I was there,” Louise said.
When Louise finally retired, she stayed busy. In addition to socializing at nearly every church activity, she went on a road trip with her sister Maryetta from Florida to Canada and everywhere in between. She also went on a cruise, hitting many of the Caribbean Islands and the Florida Keys.
Louise described those as some of her best memories, because “I hadn’t been anywhere before,” Louis said. Until then she had never left her small corner of Oklahoma.
Louise lived home alone until age 104, when she finally agreed to move into Wood Manor, where she and the staff seem to get along great.
She still beats all of her family members in dominoes and does the math for points in her head.
“I stopped playing against her because I never win,” said her grandson-in-law Rick.
On her birthday she won a yellow duck while playing bingo, which she intends to give to one of her seven great-great-grandchildren.
She’s worked hard ever since she was very young,” Barabra said, explaining how her mother has continued to be so strong. “She has always tried to be happy.”
Louise’s life advice based on 107 years of experience is pretty simple, “be honest,” and “don’t hold grudges.”