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Former SKSD teacher turns 103
Former school teacher Lydia Simonson has watched and experienced the world changing around her for more than a century.
On Monday, she celebrated her 103rd birthday with fellow residents, family and members of the Port Orchard Business and Professional Women at Ridgemont Senior Apartments.
Simonson, who retired from teaching in 1975, was born in Eureka, S.D., on Jan. 20, 1911 and moved to South Kitsap in 1942. Her great-grandparents immigrated to America for the Homestead Act.
“I came up here for a summer vacation and stayed,” Simonson said.
She earned a two-year teaching degree, but graduated from University of Washington with a four-year degree at age 52.
While in South Kitsap, Simonson taught third grade starting at East Port Orchard Elementary School and finishing at Orchard Heights.
She said one of the most significant changes was the advancement of electric power. As a child, Simonson remembered doing homework from a kerosene lamp, until electricity came on the scene.
“Then electricity came to our home,” Simonson said. “What a wonderful change it was.”
Simonson said Henry Ford’s Model T car widened the horizon considerably.
“No more horse and buggies,” she said. “It was a real challenge to drive a car.”
In the summer, water from the car would boil over the radiator and the tires blew out.
“What a difference today as we drive our roads in air-conditioned cars,” Simonson said. “No longer does the wife have to ask her husband to stop and ask for directions. There’s a gadget in the car that can tell you where to go and how to get there.”
The advancement of airplanes was another major development during Simonson’s life. She recalled stunt flyers who came to a town to perform.
“The airplanes brought a change in mail delivery,” she said. “In the early days, everyone had to pick up their mail at the post office and every train had a mail car.”
She said during the winter months, trains would get stuck in snowdrifts and would take three days or more to dig the train out.
Other important changes were the Rural Free Delivery Act, which helped mail delivery in rural areas, and the telephone. She remembers crews stringing telephone wires to a central office where a telephone operator would connect people.
“Phones were called party lines and each phone would have its own ring,” she said. “You could listen in on any call. It was part of our entertainment.”
Soon afterwards, direct dial and touch phones followed, but cellphones rule today’s world.
Radios later came along, followed by television.
“We would pull up our chairs around and listen to the news as it came over the air,” Simonson said.
One thing Simonson experienced personally was progress women have made since 1919.
“One major step was the right to vote,” she said. “Most girls went to high school, but not many went to college because there were few professions — nursing and teaching — offered for women.
“When we were given the right to vote, many professions opened up for women such as medicine, law practices and the military,” Simonson said.
She noted during World War II women took over on the homefront and advanced their progress.
“They built planes as well as flew them,” Simonson said.
She said in the 1920s, only two women in her hometown drove a car.
“Now women drive anything — even heavy equipment,” she said.
Simonson contributes “living one day at a time” to her longevity, as well as being a “world traveler.”
“I have been to every continent except Antarctica,” she noted. “Little did I know as I gazed in awe of the stunt flyer’s performance that I would one day travel in a huge airplane to see but one continent. I would see many places and meet many people from all over the world.”
While she likes to travel, the U.S. is her favorite place to be.
“I was always glad to get back home,” Simonson said. “It’s the best country of all.”