Emma Harman (right) talks with friends during her 100th birthday celebration at the Original Bakery in West Seattle on May 1. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR MORE.
SLIDESHOW: Emma Harman, a true West Seattle treasure, celebrates 100 years
So what is the key to reaching 100 years of age? For Emma Harman, a longtime Fauntleroy resident and progressive 34th district representative in the early 1940s, it seems to be a mixture of vibrant conversation throughout life, a passion for community and politics, good genes, a rural upbringing and a commitment to walk about six blocks every day.
Once a week, those daily walks take her to the Original Bakery where she meets with a group of fellow West Seattleites every Tuesday for pastries, conversation and coffee. The Tuesday crew met up on May 1 to celebrate Harman’s 100th birthday, officially on May 5.
“You don’t notice until you get there,” Harman said of reaching centenarian status, “It’s just one day at a time.”
Harman partied with close friends on May 1, a group with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds who have come together on Tuesdays for, more or less, the last 25 years. They shared a birthday cake created by Original Bakery owner (since 1972) Bernie Alonzo and signed a poster board that proclaimed in bold letters, “Happy Birthday Emma.”
“We talk about everything; maybe what’s happening in the news, reports from our families, where we might be going. It’s just a wonderful discussion of anything,” Harman said of Tuesdays at the bakery.
“They are all from different walks of life, but they have all met and formed the group,” Alonzo said. “All these people, Emma and all of them, I think are super special … because they are living history. 100 years: that is almost a third of our country’s history.”
Harman grew up in what is now Newcastle, her home and small family farm now the grounds of Issaquah Elementary.
When asked what she contributes a century of life, good health and a lively mind to, she went back to the beginning.
“My parents lived to be quite old – 80 and 90,” she said, and her grandma lived well into her 80s – quite a feat for anyone around the turn of the 20th century.
She figures being “raised in the country” likely helped as well. “Lots of exercise, milking and gardening.” She said the family raised chickens and cows and gardened to sustain themselves.
Harman was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in the early 1940s, representing the 34th District as a democrat with a very progressive agenda for the time (and representing one of only a few women to attain public office). She said her biggest issue was getting pensions for seniors who had worked hard their whole lives.
70 years later, she is as sharp as ever.
“We are still doing the same thing,” she said. “We don’t have enough money to run state government and the schools and to take care of the improvements the country needs. The schools and the social problems are the last things they fund.”
Having 100 years under your belt, however, provides the amazing gift of perspective.
“We have come a long way,” Harman continued. “Teachers get more adequate pay (for example). When I went to high school, women teachers got $100 a month and men got $125. Isn’t that unbelievable? And the rationalization of that was that women didn’t have any responsibilities and the men had to keep a family. They didn't ever ask her if she had any!”
Harman offered a bit of sage advice for the younger generation as they work their way down the river of life.
“I think that they should take an interest in what is happening in the community around them, in the government, and how things are going because it is only by their participation that we are going to have a good government,” she said. “That’s my advice.”
The party slowly thinned out as Harman’s friends gave her hugs and thanked her for years of friendship.
As bakery owner Alonzo packed up the remaining sliver of cake in a box for Harman, someone asked him, “Do you want to live to be 100?”
“Only if I can be like Emma,” he replied.
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