It’s not hard to determine what’s still important to Crystal Harris, even after nearly a century of living.
The nearly lifelong Leavenworth County resident — aside from a short stint in Salina working with the Salvation Army — has photos throughout her living room of her daughter, two granddaughters, five great-grandchildren and 14 great-great grandchildren. Harris, who will turn 100 on Feb. 3, said she feels that keeping in touch with all of those generations, plus some of the pen pals she’s had since high school, have helped her stay sharp. She even appreciates newer technologies like Facebook and Twitter as ways to stay in touch.
“It’s wonderful,” she said of the up-to-the-minute updates from social media. “I like to know what’s going on — I’m nosy I guess.”
Her daughter, Delores Vargas, said her mother can easily name every single one those family members, along with their birthdays.
“Sometimes I ask her for help,” Vargas said, laughing.
Harris said she is thankful that her eyesight is still good enough to read and her hearing still good enough to talk to all those family members and friends. Among them is a relationship that Harris said she has prized for longer than many have been alive — her long-standing friendship with fellow centenarian May Jones, who turned 100 in July.
“It seems like we just always knew each other,” she said of her relationship with Jones.
Living blocks away, she said Jones would often come over for the two to catch up on sewing. They were also both involved at the Church of the Open Door, where Jones’ husband was the longtime pastor. Even today, with age making communication somewhat difficult for Jones, the two still share a unique bond when they get together.
“It’s adorable. They sit, chairs facing each other, holding each others’ hands,” Vargas said. “And they have to yell at each other,”
That yelling is just a result of Jones’ heaing loss — Harris said she couldn’t remember a time when the two argued.
“I don’t hardly know what to say about her,” she said. “We just love each other and we’re good friends.”
Even with her best friend having hit the 100 mark several months before her, Harris said she wasn’t quite sure what to expect and until recent weeks hadn’t really thought about it.
Prompted, however, she remembers a lot. Harris was born Feb. 3, 1913, in her aunt’s home on West Seventh Street in Leavenworth. Her family at the time lived on a small farm near what is now Lansing, near the Lamborn family farmstead that is still in operation. She said her family had several dairy cows, as well as hogs and chickens. To this day, Harris said she remembers walking through fields of sheep, geese and the odd peacock to get to class at Spring Hill School, where she was taught by famed local educator Sallie Zoll, and bringing milk to a creamery in the city on Shawnee Street by horse and buggy.
Page 2 of 2 - Eventually, the family moved to a home on 10th Avenue. Relatively speaking, Harris said the new setting was much more like living in a city, but she said she also remembers when “filling station” meant the place you stop to give your horse a drink of water from Five-Mile Creek on 10th Avenue, before housing developments existed on that stretch of road.
After graduating high school in 1931, Harris married her husband of nearly 70 years, Walter, and the two moved to the house where Crystal still lives on Grand Avenue. It has changed since then, with Walter doing most of the work, just like her father did much of the work in building their rural Lansing home.
“If it’s something that needs to be done and if you want it done, sometimes you just have to do it yourself,” she said.
As part of her church, Harris became known for helping the youngest members memorize Bible verses and worked in the church nursery. Along with the birthday cards on her side table this week were notes from some of those babies, some now 60 years old. Harris said it’s another group of people she likes to get updates from, to see what they’ve done since leaving the cradle.
“I hope I’ve set a good example,” she said.
She might get to see a few of them at the open house for her 100th birthday from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Church of the Open Door, 4800 S. 20th St. in Leavenworth. While she is happy to credit God for her longevity and continued independence, she said she didn’t have a lot to day about being another year older.
“It doesn’t feel much different,” she said. “I just live from day to day.”