POULSBO — So, you want to live to be 112 like Emma Otis? Here’s how you do it.
While you can, row a boat across the Tacoma Narrows every day and walk a newspaper delivery route.
When you’re in your 60s, hike across the Olympics and ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
When you’re in your 70s, help build a house. Otis installed the subflooring at her daughter’s place in Hansville when she was 77.
When you’re 100, walk three miles round trip to the grocery store. And mow your own lawn.
Listen to rock ’n’ roll; Otis’ favorite station was KJR. Eat oatmeal and drink whole milk for breakfast. Have a gin martini on Saturday (adults only).
Have a sense of humor. As she walked around Liberty Shores on Tuesday telling people it was her 112th birthday, she asked her daughter, Doris Davies, “How old are you now?” “I’m 89,” Davies said. Otis responded, “Eighty-nine? That’s old!”
And never lose sight of what’s cool. Otis rocked a floral headpiece during her birthday party, but she lit up when she saw her fashionista great-granddaughter Shauna McVey’s striped pants from Nordstrom’s. It said volumes about Otis that people had different stories to tell about her than on previous birthdays.
“She’s very inspiring,” Girl Scout leader Jamie Gee said as two of her scouts presented Otis with a Girl Scout blanket and boxes of cookies. “It’s good for them to see that if you stay with the organization, you see what it can do for you.”
What Scouting did for Otis was give her an outlet for her sense of adventure, a place where she could teach girls to be independent and resourceful. As a Scout leader, she led excursions and hikes and educational trips.
At Camp St. Albans, which Otis helped found in the 1930s, “girls are taught skills they would otherwise not have access to — boating, archery, a lot of things,” Gee said.
Today, Otis leads the Girl Scouts of America in age and longevity of membership. According to the Gerontology Research Group, she’s the 30th oldest person in the world and the 13th oldest American (that’s as of Wednesday; the list can change as ages of more individuals are verified).
She’s also the oldest Washingtonian — a fitting accomplishment for the person responsible for the American goldfinch being named the state bird.
Otis has her own apartment at Liberty Shores Harbor House, takes no medication, and doesn’t use a walker or cane. Her family credits her longevity to her active lifestyle and genes — her mother and an aunt lived to almost 90.
Her descendants carry her genetic gifts. But her granddaughters said resourcefulness is one of the greatest gifts passed on to them. Because of her grandmother, Pugh has no problem taking apart the sink and fixing it — she did it that morning — as well as accomplishing sundry other tasks for which people might call an expert.
Otis set the example. When she was 100, she climbed up on the roof of her home to remove moss. When she was in her 80s or 90s, she whacked a skunk that had gotten under her house. During an earthquake, she stood on her dining room table and supported a chandelier she feared might fall.
Otis’ birthday was celebrated on Tuesday at Liberty Shores by family members, Liberty Shores staff, and Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson. Other media, including KING-5 TV, were on hand to report on the event.
A highlight of the event: Otis held the latest addition to the family, great-great-grandson Caleb Barnett, age 3 months, for the first time.
“It’s a testimony to faith and love of family,” Mayor Erickson said of Otis’ longevity. “There are five generations in there that love her.”
Born: Emma Gustava Erikson on Oct. 22, 1901 in Lawson, a coal mining town near Black Diamond, to John and Emma Thoren Erikson. Otis’ parents hailed from Fjellbacka, Sweden.
Career: She was a nurse in Tacoma at 16; later became a leader of Girl Scouts and Rainbow Girls.
Family: Her late husband, Robin “Bob” Otis, was a career firefighter. They had three children. Today, the family includes nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and seven great-great-grandchildren.
Milestones: Helped found Camp St. Albans in the 1930s, lobbied successfully to have the American goldfinch named Washington’s state bird, oldest member of the Girl Scouts of America, oldest living Washingtonian.
Links: "Good genes and gumption: Poulsbo woman is state's oldest resident," Oct. 17, 2011 NorthKitsapHerald.com; Gerontology Research Group website.