ST. GEORGE – Fern Williams, an active resident of The Retreat at SunRiver St. George, had a lot to celebrate Wednesday. At 104 years young, she is the oldest resident at The Retreat. She was the first resident to move into the 48-room senior assisted living center when it opened its doors in May 2012.
Williams received an invitation from Gov. Gary Hebert to attend a luncheon Tuesday that celebrated Utah’s 106 known centenarians, but she was unable to make the trip up north.
Williams was born Aug. 27, 1910, in Independence, Kansas. William H. Taft was President of the United States then. Federal spending equaled a mere $0.69 billion, and a letter could be mailed for 2 cents.
Williams is the second of eight children and the only remaining survivor of her siblings.
“She’s a very independent woman, still,” her daughter Shari Berger, of SunRiver, said. “And she has a good sense of humor.”
Other residents living at The Retreat agree.
“She’s a delight to be around, and it’s wonderful having her at our table,” Sara Smith, a resident at The Retreat, said.
One thing Williams is well known for at The Retreat is her ability to whistle. She whistles at the dinner table when her friends egg her on, and she’ll whistle when she needs assistance in her room, Melissa Patton, activities director for The Retreat, said. When asked to give a sample, Williams put her fingers to her mouth and let out a “catcall” whistle that could be heard throughout the building.
Williams, who was a ballroom dance instructor at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado, at the famous Trocadero Ballroom, also became known for dancing with her walker at last year’s Valentine’s Day dance. She used a walker exclusively until about a month ago. She now also uses a wheelchair.
Besides raising three children and teaching dance, Williams was an expert seamstress. When asked what is her favorite thing to do, “sewing” was the first word out of her mouth.
“You’ve heard of Rosie the Riveter,” Berger said. “Well, Mom was ‘Rosie the Sewer.'”
Berger said her mother sewed upholstery on the seats of B-29 bombers during World War II. She also sewed gowns for ballroom and square dancers and made her granddaughter’s wedding dress, Berger said.
Williams and Berger play Scrabble every day. Instead of keeping score, the first person to use all of their tiles is the winner, Berger said.
A group of about 15 staff members and residents gathered with Williams Tuesday to celebrate her 104 years. After singing “Happy Birthday to You,” they feasted on powdered and chocolate mini doughnuts. Residents also reminisced about how they met Williams.
“I remember seeing her when I first arrived here,” The Retreat resident Berta Skalla said. “She stood out. I thought she was so beautiful.”
“We’ve taken lots of walks down the hall many times,” Skalla added. “During one of our walks, we got to the end of the hall and Fern said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here. Why am I still here? Well, this, too, will pass.'”
When asked what she did to live such a long life, Williams said: “Just live an ordinary life.”
Slowing down to live life has helped Williams also, Berger said.
“She’s always been a person who is honest and has a lot of humor,” Berger said.
Berger also shared her appreciation to the staff and residents at The Retreat who have treated her mother kindly and have had a lot of love for her.
The group agreed to meet again next year and celebrate Williams’ 105th birthday.
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