The Canadian Press
Jasper’s oldest resident, Verne Rhoda Clarridge, celebrated her 107th birthday on June 19.
Verne’s daughter, Coni Bowen, brought her mom to her home where Verne enjoyed one of her favorite meals, Kentucky fried chicken, and a butter tart with a candle in it for dessert.
Earlier, Verne had a birthday cake at her residence, Alpine Summit Seniors Lodge.
“She’s the original Energizer Bunny,” Bowen said. “She’s pretty healthy, she’s pretty happy.”
Verne (maiden name Cheropita) was born in Theodore, Saskatchewan in 1913, the oldest of 12 children. She moved to Ontario in the early 1940s and had two jobs in Hamilton, one at a hardware store and another at the lunch counter at Woolworth. That’s where she met husband-to-be Gladwyn Clarridge, who was in the army at the time.
“He was six feet tall and handsome, she was 4’11’ and cute,” Bowen chuckled about her parents.
They got married in 1944, then Gladwyn returned to work in the army.
When the war was over, Verne and Gladwyn settled in Hamilton where they lived for a while before moving to Burlington, ON. The two girls, Coni and her sister, Judi Verrier, were born and the family lived there for many years. Gladwyn passed away in 1990 when he was 74.
Bowen convinced her mom to move to Jasper in 1996, where she and husband D.J. and their son Max lived. They had a place waiting for her to move into – a duplex they owned that’s kitty corner to the post office and across from a school that Max attended.
“Max would come for lunch sometimes, visit her after school,” Bowen said. “They’re very close.” Verne lived on her own until she was about 1991, and then moved in with Bowen and D.J. for about a year and a half, then in long term care at the hospital. When the lodge opened its doors in 2008, Verne was one of the first residents.
Verne gets “an amazing level of care” where she lives, Bowen said. “A lot of that contributes to why she is still here today.”
Socializing changed when COVID-19 hit, but Bowen did whatever was allowed to visit her mom.
“I waved at her through the window, or talked through the screen if it was open,” she said.
“Then we were allowed to visit her outside in a courtyard (after first having her temperature taken, and wearing a mask).
At the beginning of June, Bowen was given permission to take her mom for a walk in her wheelchair.
“She loved it, she loved going by the house she lived in,” Bowen said. “Sometimes Max would come with me.
“I usually see her everyday in the courtyard, or through the window. It’s good for her to see somebody.
“She’s happy, she likes looking out the window. She watches TV, she still reads the newspaper.”
Verne also makes sure she’s wearing nail polish and lipstick.
“She has to wear both of those every day,” Bowen said.
Another one of Verne’s daily routines is to have a rum and coke every day at happy hour – at 4 p.m., something, Bowen noted, she’s been doing “forever”.
With her sharp mind, “You can still have a conversation with her,” Bowen continued. “She remembers lots and still has a sense of humour.
She’ll say, “I may not remember what I had for lunch, but I know when it’s time for happy hour.”
In addition to the care she gets at the lodge, Verne has great support from her family in town. As well as Bowen and D.J., Max and Sarah, there is Judi’s daughter, Natalie and her daughter Chloe. Judi’s daughter Chantal and her daughter Remi live in Ontario.
About her mom’s longevity, Bowen said, “I think she has the luck of the draw.”
Genetics may be in her favour too, considering that Verne’s brother Alex is still around – at age 105, as well as their two youngest siblings, who are in their 80s.
By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Jasper Fitzhugh