Recent History – 2001
June 25, 2001, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Surrounded by friends and family, and with the help of balloons, cake – and a sense of a teacher’s decorum – Helen Clare celebrated her 100th birthday Friday at Peace River Haven.
Conscious of her role as the centre of the celebration’s attention, Clare took time out to pose with the birthday cake so that the media and others with cameras could take their photos. And when the cake began to be handed out, she also provided some time in an adjacent room for an interview and volunteered some advice for living a long life.
It was the biggest day since her wedding day, and the highlight was receiving a card from Queen Elizabeth II. “I admire that lady very much,” she said.
How does she feel? “I just feel like I’m 100 years old, that’s all. And I am quite well, I’m very lucky that I am well. I have no pain problems.”
Not everything is perfect of course. She’s been confined to a wheelchair for a month and she’s legally blind. But Clare still gets up at 6 a.m. to have her breakfast, and continues to enjoy the audio books.
Longevity appears to run in the family as an uncle lived to age 98 and her sister is 95 years old. “She is so well, that I expect her to live to be 100,” Clare said.
But longevity requires more than just a good family line.
“Did you want some advice on how to live to be 100?” she asked. “Well, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chase women.”
I reply that that’s a bit of a tall order.
“Yes, well, I think you’ll probably won’t live to be older than 99,” she responded.
Lillian Helen Clare was born June 22, 1901 in Walden, Colorado. Her father was a Canadian, and moved the family to Cloverdale in 1911 after stops at a ranch near Laramie, Wyoming and Goldfield, Nevada.
She attended high school in New Westminster and first year arts at the University of British Columbia and then Provincial Normal School where she obtained a teaching certificate.
Son Art Clare observed during an account of her life that it marked the beginning of a 50-year career in teaching. Her first assignment was in Cloverdale where she was the principal of a four-room school.
“But I think she really liked adventure because she took the opportunity to move from Cloverdale out to Hedley, which is a mining town on the Hope-Princeton Highway,” he said.
In Hedley she met her future husband, Richard, the son of the mine manager, in 1922 and in 1924 they were married. Three years later, they moved to Needles on the Upper Arrow Lake – a small community that is now underwater since the flooding of the lakes.
Both of her sons, Art and Gerry, were born in nearby Nakusp.
Richard earned a teaching certificate in 1931, and taught in Needles.
In 1941 they moved to Salmo and two years later moved into the Chilliwack-Vedder Crossing-Sardis area.
When Richard died in 1951, Helen went back to full-time teaching at the secondary level. She retired as a teacher-librarian in 1967.
In 1971 she moved to Dawson Creek and became very involved with the senior citizens.
“She was a very determined lady and I have it from secret sources that behind her back she was often called ‘Helen Highwater’ because there wasn’t much that would stop her,” said Art Clare.
He recounted an episode when she called federal cabinet Minister Marc Lalonde in Ottawa when the money promised for a project had not arrived.
“She said, ‘Marc Lalonde, it’s time for you to send us our money,’ and he did.”
She’s lived in Peace River Haven since 1989.
Looking back, Helen Clare said that the automobile was the biggest development in her lifetime.
“I saw my first automobile when I was five, and the hired men had told me about the devil, and so I thought this automobile was the devil, and I went and hid under the back steps,” she said.