Jeff Jardine

79 Mother’s Days: That’s a lot for Modesto centenarian

At 100, Gladis Mordoff boasts an independent streak. She doesn’t need a cane or walker, still drives herself to appointments, serves on the county’s Healthy Aging Association board and only recently moved from her longtime Modesto home into Bethel Retirement Community.
At 100, Gladis Mordoff boasts an independent streak. She doesn’t need a cane or walker, still drives herself to appointments, serves on the county’s Healthy Aging Association board and only recently moved from her longtime Modesto home into Bethel Retirement Community. jlee@modbee.com

In November 1935, Gladis Mordoff gave birth to her first of three children, a daughter she and first husband, Ray Stout, named Francis.

The following May, Gladis enjoyed her first Mother’s Day as a mom.

Sunday, the 100-year-old Modesto resident celebrates her 79th Mother’s Day with daughter Rama Allen and about 10 other family members, brunching at Bethel Island in the San Joaquin Delta.

“It’s what we did, what we do,” she said. “Nothing spectacular. No big trips or anything.”

Spectacular, maybe not. Downsized by virtue of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids growing up and moving away like so many other generations of so many other Valley families, yes. But special? Certainly, as were all of the rest, she said.

Years ago, dozens of their family members would gather at Modesto’s Beard Brook or La Loma parks for Mother’s Day picnics and barbecues, Mordoff said. In the 1950s, these events spanned five generations.

“My grandma, my mom, myself, my daughter and her kids,” she said.

“That was a long time ago,” Rama Allen said. Nowadays, holidays and most other special days are spent at Allen’s home at Bethel Island, 60 miles from Modesto’s Bethel Retirement Community, where Mordoff has lived for the past six months.

Thriving for 100 years in excellent health means living through several eras. Mordoff was born in Arkansas in 1915, just three years after the Titanic sank and as World War I raged in Europe. She has witnessed or experienced everything since.

She and Stout began their family and lived in Oklahoma when World War II began. He worked in a glass plant in Henrietta, Okla., denied entry into the Army because of an enlarged heart. By then, most of the family, including Mordoff’s parents, had moved to California and the Valley. So in late 1943, the Stouts moved west to join them.

“They drafted him once he quit the glass plant,” she said. “They gave him a test and made him a cook, and he spent one year in the Army. He didn’t see any fighting.”

Gladis Mordoff understands that living a century means outliving loved ones. Stout died from his heart ailment in 1963. She remarried, to John Mordoff, who ran a dairy product company in Ripon. He died in 1981.

Of the three children she had with Stout, only Allen is alive. Daughter Francis Broom, Mordoff’s firstborn, died in a 1972 car crash, son Clifford from lung cancer in 2005. Allen’s granddaughter, Roni Peterson, died in 1999.

The family matriarch for three decades, Mordoff boasts of eight living grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren, many of whom visit her routinely.

“It’s good to have them come to see me,” she said.

She’s a woman with energy and spunk. As a child, she didn’t like the name her parents had given her, so she altered the spelling from the traditional “Gladys” to Gladis. Turned out she didn’t think too much of her middle name – Ava – either.

“Too German,” she said. So she changed it to Eva.

That independent streak continues to serve her well. Mordoff doesn’t need a cane or walker. She still drives herself to appointments. She only recently moved out of her longtime home on Nottingham Lane in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood and into the Bethel’s assisted living community while continuing to serve on the county’s Healthy Aging Association board.

Energy? She attended a walkathon in Modesto 15 years ago and struck up a conversation with a woman at a booth sponsored by Kaiser Permanente.

“She asked me, ‘Would you like a job?’” Mordoff said. “I told her no, that I’m traveling now – Italy, Germany. ... If somebody said, ‘Go,’ we did. So no, I didn’t really want a job. ”

The woman persisted, calling a second time. “Are you sure you don’t want a job?” she asked.

Same answer.

“Nope,” Mordoff told her. “Then she called a third time and I finally said yes. I became a senior advocate, talking with people who had problems with Kaiser and helping them get straightened out.”

She worked in Kaiser’s booths at walkathons and other health-related events, recruiting new patients.

“I gave their name and address to the office and they went out to see them,” Mordoff said.

“I worked with them 10 years or so,” she said, retiring sometime around age 95. “I finally went and told them, I really am going to check out, that I didn’t want to work anymore.”

The supervisor smiled, Mordoff recalls. “She said, ‘We forced you to work,’ and I said, ‘Yes, you did!’”

She celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family at the Masonic Lodge in Modesto in February.

“They threw a big party for me,” she said. “It was quite a time.”

And now it’s on to Mother’s Day No. 79 and counting. She will spend it, as usual, relaxing with family.

“We’re going to pick cherries the day before,” her daughter said.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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