San Luis Obispo woman celebrates a fulfilling life at 106

Dorothy Sylvester makes her entrance at the start of her 106th birthday party on Tuesday at The Villages of San Luis Obispo.
Dorothy Sylvester makes her entrance at the start of her 106th birthday party on Tuesday at The Villages of San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Dorothy Sylvester was born before the invention of radio, television and penicillin.

She watched as women earned the right to vote and as Prohibition came and went.

On Tuesday she celebrated her 106th birthday, surrounded by more than 30 friends who shared a toast in her honor.

The milestones of her life are many: She was married to the love of her life, Harry, for 62 years. She had two children, Richard and Rosemary. She lived through the Great Depression, several wars and appendicitis that nearly took her life at the age of 24.

Those close to her describe her as independent, sharp and animated.

One recent morning, while sitting in the living room of the San Luis Obispo retirement home where she lives, Sylvester reflected on her life — reminiscing about her youth, how she met her husband and other moments of significance.

Never once did she speak of any regrets.

A smile crept over her face as she talked about meeting her husband and all the years that ensued.

“Now that’s a story,” she said.

And when asked what has made her life fulfilling, Sylvester leaned over, patted her daughter’s knee, and said, “Having Rosemary.”

The mother and daughter now share an apartment at The Villages at The Oaks in San Luis Obispo, an independent living retirement facility, but only because Sylvester’s doctors told her at the age of 103 that she could no longer live by herself.

Sylvester is the oldest resident there.

She outlived her husband, many of her family members and her best friend, who lived to age 102.

Born in a small farmhouse west of Bakersfield, she later moved to Santa Ana to care for her grandmother. She worked as a typist for the state of California, and later became a baker for a Los Angeles County school district so that she could stay close to her children.

She eventually settled in Montebello, where she lived for 72 years in the home she and her husband built.

At the age of 97 she decided it was time to move into a retirement home and chose San Luis Obispo to be near her daughter.

Margarita Perry, administrator at The Villages of San Luis Obispo, was the first person to greet Sylvester and helped place her in an apartment that had a patio big enough for a garden — one of Sylvester’s only requirements.

Perry jokes that Sylvester, always an independent woman, drove herself there.

“I just don’t have words to describe her,” Perry said. “She is everything you could want as a mother or grandmother.”

Sylvester continued an active lifestyle well into her later years — even taking a swimming class until she turned 100.

“I know I’ve got some things I have to face,” said Sylvester. “I’ve reached the age when I have to face leaving Rosemary.”

But not yet.

Sylvester’s health is stronger today than it was three years ago. She walks on her own with the aid of a walker, and although it is getting harder to hear, she still doesn’t wear hearing aids.

Each day she gets up and plans another day, with her daughter at her side.

Sylvester will look you in the eye and tell you that she honestly didn’t expect to live this long — but she is sure glad that she has.