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Native Celebrates 109th Birthday With Hundreds of Cards
Spectrum staff writer
FOLSOM — Born during Grover Cleveland’s second term, it’s a
given that Mary Edna Hooper has received her share of birthday cards. It’s
also a safe bet that she’s never received quite as many at one time as
she did for birthday No. 109.
Hooper was born April 11, 1895, and the staff at Folsom Convalescent Hospital,
where she resides, threw her a small party on the anniversary of that day.
The next day, Hooper once again was the guest of honor, this time with family,
friends and community dignitaries in attendance, with a display of more than
800 greeting cards providing the backdrop.
“I don’t know how they did it. They didn’t ask me, and I live
here [in Folsom]!” said Marilyn Keppel, Hooper’s daughter. “She
got 90 or more cards today.”
“It’s just an amazing thing,” said Fran Keppel, Hooper’s
son-in-law. “All the local merchants have been wonderful, sending flowers,
candy, cakes, everything.”
Averil Thomas III, Hooper’s 54-year-old grandson who flew from Chesapeake,
Va., with his father, Averil Thomas Jr., said his grandmother was excited about
receiving so many greetings, especially letters from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Niello and Folsom Mayor Gary Podesto.
And of course there was a letter from Willard Scott, the semi-retired weatherman
from NBC’s “Today” show who frequently extends on-air birthday
greetings to centenarians.
With all the excitement surrounding her, Hooper decided it was time for a nap.
As one relative pointed out, “When you’re 109, you can do whatever
Averil Thomas Jr., 79, has returned to California for his mother’s birthday
every year except last year, when hip replacement and back operations kept him
“I thought it was great,” Thomas Jr. said of the display of cards
at Folsom Convalescent. “We walked in the halls and they’re all lined
with them. It’s really neat.
“She was born in Stockton, and when she was living there, she was the oldest
living resident. She lived there for 108 years,” he said. “She was
a wonderful mother who took care of the house, my father, and my sister Marilyn.
We did lots of things. I remember that every summer, we went somewhere — Yosemite,
Long Beach, Santa Cruz or Redding, or even Yellowstone and Zion parks. We’d
always have a trip somewhere and they’d teach us about the United States.
“And they taught us respect.”
June Wiggins, Hooper’s 82-year-old niece from Stockton, said her aunt became
a “second mother” to her after mother died at the age of 34.
“She has been a good aunt to me,” Wiggins said. “I used to
go over and see her when I worked and spend a whole afternoon with her. She was
always great to be with.”
Steve Sarine of First Responder EMS coordinated the effort to round up as many
birthday cards as possible.
“I knew they were doing something locally, but the word had not spread
throughout the community. We have over 70 facilities that we work with, so I
hooked up with Carol Kinsel at Senior Care Solutions to fax throughout the community
to get people involved,” Sarine said.
“As it turns out, the community was very interested,” he said. “Twenty-eight
facilities got involved and created activities with the residents. Some got schools
involved and provided initial collection points where our paramedics picked up
all the cards.
“I knew that once the word was out, the community would respond,” he
And respond they did. The display of cards took up all of the walls in the day
room and stretched into the hallways. Television stations were on hand to document
In Sarine’s line of work, the story doesn’t always have a happy ending.
This was a resounding exception.
“People who work in this business respect the elderly, and certainly 109
is worthy of note,” he said. “There’s plenty of friends and
family around, so that’s good.”
Not to mention enough birthday cake to last until Mary Edna Hooper’s 110th
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