When Floyd Treadway Case came to Orange County in 1910, land was cheap, people were few and opportunities abounded for hard workers.
Renting his two mules to the county to help build roads, he saved enough money to buy a 10-acre orange grove in the El Modena area of Orange.
When he died this weekend at the age of 106, the county had vastly changed. Orange groves had become housing tracts and freeways. And Case had outlived all of his contemporaries.
'Spritely Old Gentleman'
"I don't know anyone who is older in Orange County," said Jim Sleeper, county historian. "Floyd was really a spritely old gentleman, right up to the last. He was always a hard-working man on his ranch in El Modena, and he looked 40 years younger than his age."
Case, who celebrated his 106th birthday last January, died in his sleep Saturday afternoon at the Carehouse Convalescent Hospital in Santa Ana, where he had been under care for about two weeks. The exact cause of death was not immediately known but is believed to be complications of old age, a relative said Monday.
For most of his 106 years, Case had been remarkably fit and resistant to aging. Until his health deteriorated two months ago, Case had managed to, and insisted upon, living alone at his ranch home.
"When anyone asked him about his longevity, he'd always say it was because he never married," recalled his 79-year-old second cousin, Mildred Field of Orange.
Case was a Southern California pioneer who was the son of pioneer parents. "He would always tell family members about being born under a covered wagon in Iowa as his parents were moving to Nebraska," Field said.
"His parents were moving to Nebraska from either New York or Vermont, we're not sure which. But he was born on Jan. 1, 1881."
Case moved to Los Angeles from Nebraska in 1902. Field said he became a very proud Californian the rest of his long life.
Like many Californians, Case loved to drive and loved his car, his cousin recalled: "The Department of Motor Vehicles wouldn't renew his driver's license after his 105th birthday, and he really growled about that. He loved to drive and the freedom of being able to get in his car and go wherever he wanted."
In a 1983 interview, Case said that when he came to Los Angeles in 1902, he worked for a produce market at Melrose and Vermont avenues, delivering groceries in a horse-drawn wagon for $7 a week. He said he had trouble making ends meet because rents were high; he was paying $5 a week for room and board.
Move Here About 1910
Case bought and sold several small ranches in the San Fernando Valley and also worked in Fillmore, Ventura County. He moved to Orange County about 1910.
Although he joked with relatives about the joys of bachelorhood, in the 1983 interview he said he regretted not marrying and having children to take care of him in his old age. He said he came close to marrying when he was ranching in Fillmore.
"I kept company with two different sisters in Fillmore," Case said. "I wanted one of them, but the other wanted me, and I didn't want her. I proposed to the one, but she turned me down."
Field said Case loved hunting and fishing. He also liked to be outdoors "and he'd walk up a hill behind his house every day." She said Case abstained from cigarettes and alcohol, "and that also helped him live a long life."
Although he sold the property several years ago, Field said he made arrangements with the owners to let him stay in the house.
"He took pretty good care of it until about two years ago, and then I helped him out with his cleaning," she said. "His mind also was very good until about two years ago, and then it began to wander."
Asked to describe him, Field thought for a moment and said: "He was a soft-spoken, kindly gentleman. He loved to eat, and he loved a good joke. He also really loved his automobile."
In addition to Field, other survivors include a first cousin, a niece and five nephews.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Shannon-Donegan Mortuary Chapel, 137 E. Maple Ave., Orange. The burial will be in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.