In Her 2nd Century: Modesto woman turns 107

Eleanor Golly, born in sonora, is 107 today.  Although she used to travel widely, these days her 'itchy feet' rest themselves at Casa de Modesto in Modesto.
Eleanor Golly, born in sonora, is 107 today. Although she used to travel widely, these days her 'itchy feet' rest themselves at Casa de Modesto in Modesto. Modesto Bee

Eleanor Golly turns 107 today, so it's no wonder she picks Abraham Lincoln as her favorite president.

"I always admired Lincoln," she said. "Wouldn't you, if you were born on his birthday?"

Golly's daughter, Cathy Caudle, who lives nearby, and other friends will gather at Casa de Modesto today to celebrate the anniversary of Golly's birth. The centenarian has other senior roommates and a caregiver. She can stand but uses a wheelchair to get around.

"What kind of cake are we having?" she asks with a gleam in her eye.

When Golly was born in 1901 in Sonora, she said, a "Dr. Gould" traveled with a nurse by buggy to deliver her at home. Her father, she said, was off hunting deer. "They had a hard time finding him."

She remembers building toy houses out of rocks as a child and attending a first- through eighth-grade grammar school. In eighth grade, "Maggie Faye was my teacher. She was my mother's teacher, too, when she was a girl."

She went on to graduate from Sonora High School and at a reunion a few years back was the oldest living Sonora High graduate. From high school, Golly went to the University of California at Berkeley, graduating "from the school of librarianship" and later earning her teaching credential.

She made the switch in careers because, she said, she realized teachers got the summers off, which let her indulge in her favorite pastime: traveling.

"My mother always said I had itchy feet," she said with a grin.

Travel she did, as a single young woman, later with her husband and daughter, Cathy, her only child, and after her husband died in the early 1950s.

"I always thought the country was so beautiful to see," she said. "People didn't go slow and look. I was looking for beauty."

Golly has been around the world -- to Asia, to Europe several times, to many Olympic Games, including the 1972 Munich Olympics when several Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed. The trip she most remembers, however, is an early one through the Panama Canal.

"The ships went a lot more slowly then," she said. "I remember my first trip through the canal. That was wonderful. You could see quite a bit of North America and South America."

First vote by women 'a fuss'

Although she wasn't old enough to vote, Golly remembers the first time U.S. women were allowed to cast ballots -- in 1920.

"What a fuss that was," she said. "They tried to keep a record of who voted."

She said she still votes, "more than ever."

But times have changed. "People didn't talk about politics like they do now," she said. Instead, they gossiped about neighbors.

Golly has a sense of humor to go with her lifetime of memories, mostly of family times. As a child, she had a dog named Bob, a black and white mutt. She and her only sibling, a brother, were allowed to sleep with him at times. "He didn't lose a single flea," she said.

She met her husband at a school dance. The next time she traveled home to Sonora from the Berkeley-Oakland area where she lived after college, she told her family about him.

"I was telling my mother I had met the nicest gentleman, but he had to take care of his parents."

Golly slips a bit on his name at first. It was Chet, short for Chester, and he was a banker. She first remembered it as Cecil, then said with a laugh, "Oh, that must have been another husband." She had only the one, and they had been married for a bit more than

20 years when he died.

Through the slight memory losses, one thing is clear: "I've enjoyed every day of my life," she said.

And she's not quite ready to say goodbye. She still has "all the things I've left undone."

Like this one: "I haven't walked across the San Francisco bridge yet. Want to come?"

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or 578-2012.