‘I’ve survived damn near everything’
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Sporting a yellow button that read, “I’ve survived damn near everything,” Helen Wyant marked her 101st birthday Monday at Barton Skilled Nursing Facility surrounded by family, staff and fellow residents.
With a quick wit and relaxed view on life, Wyant said there isn’t a secret to her longevity.
“I haven’t got any secret,” said Wyant, who lived on her own in a two-story apartment until she was 99. “I wish I did. I would sell it and make a million.”
Longevity runs in the family: Wyant’s mother, Helen Hayne, lived to be 105.
Wyant’s health is good, in spite of breaking a hip on the first day of spring. Three weeks later, she was out lunching with friends and family at Steamers, one of her favorite restaurants.
Her great-niece Kim Gayner is her frequent dining companion.
“She’s still very witty,” Gayner said. “She’s always popping off with something.”
Gayner so enjoys her great aunt’s wit and wisdom that she included some of Wyant’s advice in her book, “Reality 101: A Must Have Guide to Life & Life Skills Survival Manual.”
Wyant was born Aug. 2, 1909, in Alameda, Calif. Her parents divorced. According to family lore, Wyant’s mother was one of the first women to file for divorce in the state of California. Wyant was raised by her mother, a stenographer, and her stepfather, a mechanic.
She graduated from Freemont High School in Oakland, Calif. in 1926, at age 17. She moved out of her parent’s house one year later – her stepfather was furious that she cut off her long hair into a short hairdo.
In her 20s, Wyant modeled for department stores in the Bay Area. A black-and-white, framed photograph of Wyant’s modeling days hangs on the wall in her room. An attractive, coy Wyant gazes out from the photo, wearing a leopard-print smock.
“Oh well, you don’t call that anything glamorous,” Wyant said modestly.
During World War II, she worked at McDonnell Douglas and in other factories, making aerospace parts for the war effort.
Wyant was thrice married, to which she shrugs her shoulders and quips, “I was a busy girl.”
Her third marriage to George Wyant lasted 50 years. He passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease in 1989.
She moved to Lake Tahoe 10 years ago to be closer to her family: Doug and Nancy Gayner – Nancy is the daughter of Wyant’s only brother – and the Gayner’s children, Greg and Kim Gayner and great-great nephew Tyler Dreager.
Wyant celebrated her 90th birthday at the Kentucky Derby. Last year, she celebrated her 100th birthday with a carriage ride at Stateline, a trip to the San Francisco Giants Game (they won) and a party with friends and family at Regan Beach.
Barton activities director Maureen Froyum said Wyant is the second-oldest person at the skilled nursing facility. Resident Erna Beglau turned 101 six weeks ago.
“(Wyant) was a little sad she wasn’t the oldest,” Froyum said with a laugh.
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