She might have celebrated her 107th birthday on Wednesday, but Alice McDonald feels 50 or 60 years young, she told the Herald and News Tuesday afternoon.
Donning a pearl bracelet on the eve of her birthday at Pacifica Senior Living in Klamath Falls, Alice’s mental sharpness and tenacity for life were evident in her smile and witty demeanor.
After answering a long list of questions about her life, Alice said: “You ought to read the family book and then you’d know everything,” Alice told the reporter sitting nearby.
Her son, Jim McDonald, left the lobby and returned with a thick binder full of photos and memorabilia from days long past.
Alice looked at a photograph of herself as a young girl standing outside her home in Macdoel.
The centenarian easily recalled growing up the middle child of 11 children – one died as a baby – in Macdoel.
Her parents – Ethel Maude and Jirah “J.D.” Hammond – came to Butte Valley from North Dakota by train in 1909. The family was attracted to the region by the supposedly plentiful peach and apple trees.
“Which wasn’t true,” said Karen Lapsley, Alice’s daughter.
“It was sand and jackrabbits and sagebrush,” Lapsley added.
“But they had good real estate back then and sold it to a lot of people,” Jim McDonald said, with a laugh.
The Hammonds were persistent people, amid the mis-advertisement, and made a life in Macdoel.
Alice, born in Macdoel on Sept. 25, 1912, grew up in a two-bedroom house. The 10 siblings shared two beds between them.
Her father, known as “J.D.” around town, was an entrepreneurial man, though he lost his sight due to cataracts.
That didn’t stop him from teaching Alice how to drive, or her siblings how to conduct business at his establishments in town. As well as being an attorney, he also ran a telephone company and cut glass for local residents.
Alice said residents of MacDoel would always come to her father for answers to problems, and he helped them.
“We took a drive way out in the country and he’d tell me what to do, and I’d say, ‘There’s a car coming, we’d better stop,” and he’d say, ‘No, you just keep on going and stay on the right hand side of the road and you’ll be all right.”
Does she have some of her father’s persistence?
“Probably,” she said, with a smile.
And the persistence would pay off for Alice throughout her life.
Alice lost her mother to pneumonia at age 17, and being the oldest still living at home, nearly quit school in Dorris to help care for her younger siblings. Her mother died at age 51.
She said it was the persistence of her teachers in Dorris that prompted her to complete her diploma, which she collected in Yreka.
“The teacher ... they would write up her assignments, and she would come with the siblings on the bus and get the assignments,” said Karen Lapsley, Alice’s daughter.
“I was glad I was done with school,” Alice added, smiling.
Alice’s dream at the time was to find a job in Klamath Falls and she got more than she bargained for in a job listing for a babysitter.
A timber official, who worked for Weyerhaeuser, and his wife needed a babysitter to watch their little boy as they traveled.
Alice jumped at the opportunity.
“I was a young girl and I knew I’d never have the chance again, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ If they’re going to take good care of me and pay me,” Alice said.
The couple took Alice to Florida with them, where she helped watch their son.
“He was a good boy,” Alice said.
“I took good care of him,” she added. “I got $25 a month and I thought that was pretty good.”
Throughout the years, she also visited Niagara Falls in New York, where she had family, and enjoyed the chance to travel as a single, young woman.
But her home would always in Klamath Falls.
She met her future husband, George McDonald, in Ashland at her sister’s wedding. She and George married in October 1940.
George McDonald was drafted into the military and served his country in World War II, returning to his bride.
They had two children – Karen (McDonald) Lapsley and Jim McDonald, who still live in Klamath Falls.
Alice said matter-of-factly that she started out not wanting to have any children, due to the numerous siblings that made up her parents’ family.
“But then one come along and I decided that was okay,” Alice said.
Alice’s second child came and Alice told the doctor, “Make sure I don’t have anymore. And the doctor said, ‘Yes, we’ll fix that.’”
“We’re lucky to be here,” Jim said, with a laugh.
And Alice is glad that they are here.
Seated next to her in the lobby of Pacifica, the feeling is mutual for Jim and Karen.
Jim comes by to have chats with Alice during and after lunch. Karen comes to take Alice to have her hair done.
The family, which includes numerous grandchildren and a great-grandchild, celebrated her birthday Wednesday evening, in addition to a party at Pacifica.
What’s Alice’s secret to longevity?
“I don’t drink or smoke so that helped,” she said.
She’s always kept busy working with her hands and largely taught herself to crochet.
Alice has crocheted nearly 500 angels and gifted them to family and friends, according to her daughter.
“I kept one big one for myself,” Alice said.
She also talked of baking and cooking throughout the years, including bread for her younger siblings while she was still at home and dinner and cinnamon rolls for her children when they were young. She’s since retired from this activity but her children recall the dinner rolls to this day.
“That was the favorite time when those (dinner rolls) came out,” Karen said.
Throughout her 107 years, Alice recalls sad times — losing her siblings — and happy times, including her wedding day.
And she has some free life advice, too: “Hold on to all your old relics,” she said, with a smile.