On March 29, 1912, in Davenport, Iowa, Charles and Lucinda Van Arnam welcomed their only child, a daughter Eileen.
“I was not expected to live because I was so sickly, but here I am,” said Eileen Van Arnam Wilson, who will celebrate her 101st birthday at Maple Ridge Assisted Living at the end of March.
“My parents took very good care of me and I was spoiled, not only because I was sickly, but because I was the only grandchild and niece for the first six years,” she said. “It’s hard to grow up when you’ve been spoiled.”
Wilson said, “I never expected to live this long, but I must be still here for a reason.”
Wilson grew up as a “city girl” in Iowa, and in 1933, she accompanied her grandparents on a car trip to Western Washington, where her aunt lived near Lake Serene.
It was during the Depression, and she marveled at seeing the Rocky Mountains and then the Cascades and green of Washington State. Here, she also found love.
“I met Edgar on my birthday and we eloped to Olympia on July 6, 1933,” Wilson said.
The couple lived in several places around the country, as Edgar was a heavy-duty mechanic and his skills were in demand. In the 1940s, Edgar and Eileen lived in Oak Harbor when the naval base was in its infancy. They bought property on South Whidbey in the 1960s.
After living many years in Lynnwood, Edgar and Eileen moved to Windmill Heights on Bush Point in 1975.
Edgar and Eileen were married 51 years and three months when he passed away in 1984.
Their only child, Patricia Wilson Rothwell, is the mother of their two grandsons, and also lives on Whidbey.
“I’ve got two grandsons and six great-grandsons,” said Eileen Wilson proudly. “All boys!”
Wilson began playing piano at age 4, and played piano and organ most of her life.
“I enjoyed it,” she said of her many years playing for church services in Lynnwood and on Whidbey. Now, her aged hands won’t work to depress the keys, so she listens to great music instead.
“I have heard many great artists in my time,” Wilson said.
Aside from homemaking, raising her daughter and playing music, Wilson was active in PTA, the Edmonds School Board and as a precinct committeewoman for the Democratic Party.
“I saw both Nixon and Kennedy speak in 1960,” she said. She attended Democratic national conventions whenever she could, and here on Whidbey worked for the Democrats in the Admiralty District.
When asked what she thinks of politics today, she said, “There’s too much money involved. People try to buy themselves into office.”
She admires President Barack Obama, but thinks he “has a tough job getting anything accomplished with Congress being so determined to undermine him.”
In addition to volunteer work, politics and playing music, Wilson decided later in life to try her hand at earning money, and went to work for the State Department of Fisheries in payroll and personnel. Later she worked alongside the social workers at Harborview Medical Center, where she says, “I saw everything.”
“My husband was opposed to my working,” she said. “But I wanted to know if I could make a living, and I enjoyed it. I liked being busy, even if sometimes I’d meet myself coming and going.”
Now, at age 100, Wilson wishes she was busier, as she sometimes gets bored at Maple Ridge, where she’s lived for a year. She takes care of herself, manages her own medications, and “does what the doctors tell me to do.”
“I’m not sure why I’ve lived so long,” Wilson said. “I suppose it’s because I’m so ornery.”
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” said Wilson. “I had a good childhood, a good marriage and a happy life. I wouldn’t change any of it.”