November 9, 2007

One of oldest Portuguese women, 110, dies

MERCED -- Alice Sanders, one of the world's oldest Portuguese women, died Wednesday night at a Merced care home. She was 110.

"She lived to see everything from automobiles to telephones to men walking on the moon," Merced City Councilman and grandson Jim Sanders noted. "She lived in three centuries."

The world's oldest person is 114-year-old Edna Parker, who lives in Indiana. She was born April 20, 1893. The oldest Portuguese woman is 114-year-old Maria de Jesus, who was born Sept. 10, 1893, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

Mrs. Sanders spent the last decade of her life at the La Sierra Care Center in Merced, where she chatted with the nurses, often telling them stories rich with details from her life, which was marked by determination and grit.

"It's interesting that a dirt-poor woman has spawned schoolteachers, government officials and farmers," her grandson said. "It's a pretty incredible family that she's brought forward."

Mrs. Sanders was born Alice Katherine Mattos on May 12, 1897, on St. George Island in the Azores. By the age of 6, she could read and write Portuguese, using the skill later in life to translate for Merced County residents.

Her father left for California to save money that would let him bring the family to the United States; they joined him in 1903. The Mattoses settled in Half Moon Bay, where her father worked at a dairy.

As a 9-year-old, Mrs. Sanders lived through the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906, though she thought she might die. "I was shaken right out of bed," she told the Sun-Star during her 100th birthday. "The stove -- everything -- came tumbling down and there was broken dishes and glass everywhere."

Her father was screaming because he was trapped behind a door, and her mother called the family to pray because she thought it was the end of the world. The quake stopped and the family went back inside their home to clean up, finding ash from a burning San Francisco falling on their lawn.

The Mattoses moved to Gustine in 1912 because her father got a job working for the Miller and Lux Co., a West Side landowner. She attended high school there and lived with the aunt of Clarence Leonard Sanders, who would become her husband.

The couple married on Christmas Day 1913. They moved to Oregon, where her husband got a job as a logger. After a few years, they moved to Winton, and she got a job working for Passadori's in Atwater in the 1940s or 1950s as a seamstress, her grandson said.

Jerry Passadori, the store's 76-year-old owner, recalled that Mrs. Sanders was pleasant and dedicated to her job. For more than a decade, she worked full time sewing drapes. "It was an integral part of our store," he said. "She was the reason the drapes looked so nice."

Mrs. Sanders baby-sat for Atwater City Councilman Joe Rivero and his wife, and she remained close with the family. "She was a just a person that everybody liked," Rivero noted. "If you knew Alice, you loved her."

Mrs. Sanders' husband died in 1964, and about a decade later she met a man who took her on a vacation to the Azores, where she met a woman with whom she had gone to kindergarten.

By the time she turned 100, her mental and physical abilities had deteriorated, and the family put her in a care home. Still, she remained a central figure in the family, which gathered for her birthdays, often wondering if it would be the last time they were all together.

Trisha Large, a nursing assistant at Mrs. Sanders' care home, said the woman known as "Granny" had a kind heart. "I hope Alice rubbed off on me," she said. "A quarter of the lady she was, I would like to be."

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