Woman's age surprises even her
Beatrice Wright watched race cars go around a track on television last week while enjoying the sun filtering into her Austin apartment and wearing a spring-themed outfit.
The colorful, high-speed cars are quite a change from the vehicle Wright first drove as a teenager, starting in the early 1920s when she took her father's vehicle — likely a Ford Model T — without permission on a joyride around the city of Spring Valley with her three sisters.
"That was really something," she said.
Wright, who turned 103 Friday, has seen many changes in her lifetime, much of which was spent in Spring Valley and Grand Meadow. She's one of the oldest residents in Mower County, and is the oldest living graduate of Spring Valley High School.
When asked what she thinks of turning 103, Wright quipped, "That's kind of old."
"I didn't think that I'd ever get to be that old," said Wright, whose friends call her Bea.
Last week, Wright's brother, Donald Stephenson, of Edina, Minn., visited his sister at Our House Assisted Living Apartments in northwest Austin.
Wright and Stephenson — the oldest and youngest, respectively, of six children — are the only siblings still living from their family. Stephenson was born in 1925, a few months after Wright graduated from high school.
More than a century ago
Wright was born in 1907 at home in the tiny northern Mower County town of Sargeant. Her family later moved to a farm near Brownsdale before relocating to Spring Valley, where she went to school. Her grandfather, Martin Stephenson, started numerous grain elevators in Mower County.
Some of her earliest memories include going into Brownsdale as a young child for candy.
She also can recall traveling by horse and buggy between Sargeant and Brownsdale, as well as taking a train from Spring Valley to Brownsdale to spend time with her grandparents in the summer.
"That was really a trip," Wright said of the train rides, which served candy and fruit.
Train rides also could mean serious business, including the time Wright, as a child, needed surgery on the mastoid bone behind an ear. Her parents had 15 minutes to catch a train to take them to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for surgery, and they made it on time.
"That was really dramatic," she said.
After graduating from a teaching college in Winona, Wright taught in one-room, rural schoolhouses for about five years, including near Grand Meadow and Spring Valley. She built
fires, collected water and hauled wood to help run the school.
"(The students) were all very bright and anxious to learn," she said.
Wright left teaching to help her husband, Ben Wright, with his produce business in Grand Meadow, where they lived for many years.
Wright's son, Stephen, is expected to travel from his home in Norway to Austin next week to visit his mother. He also came back for her 100th birthday in 2007; she has two other children in California and Ohio.
Wright suffers from arthritis, Stephenson said, but he's surprised at how well his sister gets along overall. He credited her longevity to living a clean life.
As for tips on living past 100, Wright's advice is blunt and simple: "Just behave yourself."
If you believe the sign that sits outside of her apartment door, Wright's life would be one, thick book. The sign reads: "Every Life is a Fairy Tale Written by God's Fingers."