Frances Holmes

Corvallis Gazette Times News article posted January 11, 2017, written by Nathan Bruttell

After 100 years of a life full of adventure and change, there isn’t much that surprises Corvallis’ Frances Holmes. But on Tuesday, her face lit up as she climbed into a fire engine to fulfill a lifelong wish.

“I wasn’t expecting all this,” Holmes said with a bright smile on her face. “But it’s quite comfortable in here.”

Holmes, a resident of Corvallis Caring Place, also enjoyed a lunch and cake with three Corvallis firefighters Tuesday — part of a birthday surprise coordinated through the assisted living residence. Holmes, who’s lived most of her life in Corvallis, didn’t know about the lunch ahead of time, but had told staff in the weeks prior to her birthday that she always had a lifelong wish to get inside a fire engine and share some time with Corvallis firefighters.

“They’re such nice guys,” Holmes said, still smiling. “That was really great. It was a real pleasure. I don’t get to sit with guys very often.”

Holmes was born on a farm in Buena Vista in 1917 and moved to Corvallis to attend the original Corvallis High School (built in 1910 and destroyed by a fire in 1946). She also graduated from Oregon State University nearly 30 years before it held that title — it was known as Oregon State College when Holmes graduated with a degree in secretarial work in 1938.

“Back then, you became a teacher, a nurse or a secretary,” she said. “I could type.”

Holmes recalled much of her younger life Tuesday, sharing stories about her work during the Great Depression, her first trip to New York City in the 1940s, her life as an army wife during World War II and her time teaching illiterate adults after the war.

“She’s a lifelong reader and still quotes Ben Franklin,” said granddaughter Sarah Brooke. “And she’s always loved gardening and cooking and teaching.”

“She’s a lovely woman and always insists on manners,” said granddaughter Cathy Holmes. “She’s always been pretty sharp.”

And she remembers names like no one else, according to staff at Corvallis Caring Place.

“She remembers the names of every person in the facility,” said Activity Director Diana Jones. “There are a lot of people who turn 100, but they’re not as capable or sweet as her. It had to be special. And she grew up here when this whole town was horse and buggy and had never gotten in a fire truck so we wanted to make that happen.”

Always known as steady, calm and polite, Holmes’ family and the staff at Corvallis Caring Place delighted in seeing Holmes surprised.

“She never shakes, so when we saw that, we knew she was excited for her big day,” Jones said. “She got that giddy, nervous feeling and her eyes got big and wide. Seeing that joy and excitement made it special for us.”

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