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She's 104, Thanks to Hard Work

October 17, 1998|HARRISON SHEPPARD

Some of Bessie Austin's earliest memories are from when she was 3 years old, playing guitar and going to church with her family.

That may not seem like such a big deal, until you realize those memories date back 101 years.

Austin celebrated her 104th birthday Friday at the Midway City Community Center with family and friends. Also helping her celebrate were a group of students from the Hayden Elementary School, who haven't even hit double digits yet.

What's the secret to her longevity? Hard work, she says. She grew up on a farm in Arkansas, where the tradition of constant hard work was instilled in her. She keeps active, canning jellies and jams from the fruit trees in her front yard and making dresses for family members.

"Anything that's in my power, I do," she said. "It's hard for me to say I can't do anything. If it's possible, I do it."

Austin's family moved to New Mexico in 1910 and to Huntington Beach in 1923, where her brother and husband worked in the oil business. She owned and ran a food market and flower nursery for many years. Her husband passed away in 1946. She lives in her own home in Midway City, where she has been since 1962.

Even her 81-year-old son marvels at how sharp her memory remains.

"She's got a steel-trap mind," said Bill Edmondson. "She knows all her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids."

That's three children--two still living--plus 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, for anyone counting.

And she held a driver's license until her late 90s, when she had a fall and ended up in a wheelchair, he said.

"If she hadn't had the accident, she'd probably be up there dancing the polka," said Mike Dempski, 75, who delivers meals to her and has known her since the 1960s.

But recently, she stopped accepting the meals, Dempski said.

"She canceled out on the dinners because she says she can do her own," he said. "She says she's too young for them."

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