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An active centenarian

Irene Hill
Irene Hill, Shawnee, turned 100 years old in May.

"I used to be five-feet-two," exclaimed Irene Hill, "but now I'm only four feet tall. I've shrunk a foot!"

I didn't think it appropriate for me to measure the spunky little lady. But if Irene has shrunk a foot, it took her 100 years to do it. She reached that birthday milestone on May 14.

Like the words in the well-known song, Irene was born in Kansas, bred in Kansas, and wed in Kansas. Birth occurred in a small town called Ozawkie, which was later relocated to make room for Lake Perry. She moved to Wyandotte County when she was 5 years old, remaining there until she moved in with daughter Nancy Luikart, in Shawnee. Nancy is child number six of eight (six boys and two girls), born to Irene and her husband, Clyde.

Clyde came to the Kansas City area from Springfield, Mo., looking for work, and later met Irene. Irene left Wyandotte High School when she was 15 years old to care for her ill mother. When her mother died, Irene was only 16. Left without a mother to finish raising her, Irene married Clyde that same year and bore their first child at age 17. She bore her last child 23 years later, at age 40. Clyde supported a family of 10 by selling coal, ice, and wood.

"We never went hungry," Irene remembers. "I loved my big family. We had lots of fun." And she vehemently exclaims that "My kids owe me nothing!"

Irene has seen many things that others only read about. She saw Charles Lindbergh and his airplane, The Spirit of St Louis, at the old Fairfax Airport. She learned to cook on a wood-burning stove. She raised chickens in the back yard, killed them, and plucked the feathers before cooking them. She set a table for the big, hungry household for many years.

Irene survived the Great Depression. She was thrilled when an indoor bathroom was installed in her home in 1945. She lived through the devastating flood of 1951, even though she lost her home to the rising water.

At age 63, with all the children gone from home, Irene became bored. So she went to work in the cafeteria at the Silver City Elementary School in the Argentine District, working there for 30 years until she retired at age 93.

Irene has volunteered for numerous organizations during her long life: the PTA, Eastern Star, Daughters of Rebekah, cancer organizations, and groups that helped military veterans. She spent many years as a judge in her voting precinct.

She loves to fish, read the paper, and play poker; she drives her own car to play bingo every day. Irene still bakes an award-winning apple pie and can serve up some outstanding biscuits and cornbread.

Irene has 29 grandchildren, 64 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great-grandchildren. Clyde died at 98 years of age in 2007. She has outlived her husband of 78 years, four sons, five brothers, two brothers-in-law, and one sister-in law.

Every Christmas she distributes more than 70 of her own handmade gifts to her family members. With such a large family, I'm sure Irene receives many treasured gifts, too. But I'll bet that one thing Irene would really like is for someone to take her fishing.