Monday, January 17, 2022

Another Brief Moment in HERstory

Earlier this year, I met a dynamic duo of spitfires who served our country as WASPs during WWII. Their lecture at the South Regional Library inspired all of us in attendance as we learned about the challenges they faced and how their passion for flying and belief in themselves allowed them to persist … and prevail.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting six more ladies from the Greatest Generation, residents of the Lely Palms Retirement Community, Vesta Warner (100), Lillian Carey (102), Merle Harris (100), Marion Katzman (101), Helen Crim (100), and Claire Connolly (100), at a milestone luncheon honoring their lives.

Executive Director Erin Sakmor fills glasses for the toast.

As I approached the head table in the glittery, golden dining room of the Lely Palms, the soothing guitar strumming of Marc Vee played. Anticipation filled, as I wanted to get to know each one of these ladies a little better, each reminding me of my own grandma whom I’ve loved hearing stories about her service during WWII as a Marine in the clerical pool in Washington, DC. The challenges she faced when her husband fell ill and died, leaving her with four young children to raise, in a climate that didn’t have many women in the workforce; let alone as business owners. Her struggles and success as she supported her young family as she took over his business and continued until she chose to retire. Stories which have given me the inner strength to know that I, too, can survive hardship.

To better understand their inspiring zest and courage, let’s first look back in time to what was happening in the world at the time of their birth. These ladies were born at the end of World War I, and the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, swept across the globe, taking the lives of 675,000 Americans; infecting over 500 million people around the world, resulting in an estimated 20-50 million deaths. As toddlers in 1920, women were given the legal right to vote, and the country experienced the Jazz Age and the Roaring ‘20s. The Great Depression followed during their youth.

As young women in December 1939, they were introduced to their cherished, favorite movie, “Gone with the Wind.” “My mother was cousins with Margaret Mitchell. I attended the movie premiere in New York City,” beamed Merle Harris. “‘Gone with the Wind’ is my favorite movie,” nodded Marion Katzman, the other ladies agreed.

As for their secrets for longevity, they all shared common themes of continuing to have fun, express gratitude, and stay active socially, mentally, and physically.

Within a couple years, they would witness the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entering World War II, and the new role of women taking part in the American workforce while the men were away at war and some served our country’s military. “I was stationed in India while working for the Red Cross,” explained Helen Crim referring to her time during WWII. She later earned her degree in Corporate Finance and worked her way up in the world of finance. She continued, “At my very first job, I took a man’s job when I started working for the Continental Illinois National Bank.”

At the end of World War II, men were home from war and returning to the workforce. These young women learned that they were no longer welcome to work except in jobs pertaining to teaching, nursing, or clerical work. As they married, some learned that they were expected to give up their “acceptable jobs” and stay home.

Naples Mayor Bill Barrett.

Centennials of Lely Palms Day Proclamation

At the Centennial Club Celebration Luncheon, Naples Mayor Bill Barrett gave a proclamation declaring July 18, 2018, Centennials of Lely Palms Day. The centenarians were given letters of congratulations from Senator Kathleen Passidomo, Governor Rick Scott, and will receive letters from President Trump. Items from each of the centenarians and the proclamation will be placed in a donated time capsule.


“I worked as a secretary until I got married. My husband didn’t want me to work after that. I then traveled the world alongside him for his work. He had to check on his company’s locations all over the world,” explained Vesta Warner, whose husband was Vice President of the B.F. Goodrich Company, now known as Goodrich Corporation.

Their eyes have witnessed the growth of Collier County. “I remember only being able to travel by boat before Naples had roads,” recalls Florida native Merle Harris, whose family moved from Labelle to the Everglades in 1923. “Mr. Collier gave each child in Collier County Christmas gifts. The first year, my sister and I received the most beautiful dolls.”

In 1962, Lillian Carey and her husband Lou bought a home in Golden Gate at a time when only three other homes existed in that area. Her husband of 49 years worked with Mr. Duvacott and Mr. van der Lely (original owner and developer of Lely). She also remembers watching the Lely Palms being built.

As for their secrets for longevity, they all shared common themes of continuing to have fun, express gratitude, and stay active socially, mentally, and physically.

“My husband and I were kids together and ran track. We moved to Marco Island full-time in 1972. We walked the beach every night. Athletics were always a part of our life,” replied a smiling Claire Connolly.

Lillian Carey, a young 102, was quick with her four keys to a long life. “God first, then exercise and oh, dancing. You must keep moving. Three, NO MEDICATION, except for the eyes and ears. Vitamins prescribed by a nutritionist. Four, see a chiropractor,” explained the resolute centenarian.

Although most of their years endured turbulent times, these beauties, who don’t look a day over 80, are living out their Golden Years in splendid health, peace, and joy at the Lely Palms Retirement Community; experts in aging well, who look no worse for the wear than the immortalized Scarlett, herself.

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