WASHINGTON — They have lived through 18 presidents and nine popes. They are older than the National Football League and Band-Aids, but at least one of them still has a driver’s license. They are Betty Osincup, Irene Baughman and Letha Statler and they are all 100 years old.
The trio all live independently at the Halcyon House in Washington and are full of sass and stories. Statler refers to the group as “the three antiques” and each has their own secret as to what has helped them live so long. Osincup, who just turned 100 a few weeks ago making her the youngest of the three, credits her funny bone, but Baughman and Statler both say it’s determination that has gotten them so far.
They were all born in 1919 but only Baughman and Statler are native Iowans, both from the Keota area. With no hospitals around, they were each born in the house but Baughman’s story is a little different from most.
“The doctor got drunk right away and never even registered me,” she said with a laugh. She finally got her birth certificate about 30 years ago when she was in her 70s.
She never needed it for anything, including her driver’s license which she kept until she was 97. Statler, the oldest of the group at 100-and-a-half, stopped driving at 96 but Osincup still has her license. She no longer drives a car, instead opting for her “Cadillac”; a motorized scooter.
Osincup was born in a hospital in Chicago and migrated to Iowa after high school.
“I came out to Cornell after high school because I was a star in chemistry and my science teacher had no children but he was an alumnus at Cornell in Mt. Vernon. So, he brought four of us out here and we decided to come. Then I met my husband-to-be and we transferred to the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). That was in 1938 when Nile Kinnick was there,” she said.
Statler attended a one-room school house, Straw College, before going off to high school. She said the country school was named because straw was put on the outside of the building to keep it warm in the winter.
In the city, Osincup was able to take the streetcar to school but Baughman had to take the two mile journey by pony and Statler walked. For weekend entertainment, all they had to do was come to town.
“We always went to Washington on Saturday night, that was the big thing. We walked around the square and waved at somebody,” Statler said.
Osincup said the streetcar was the best way to navigate Chicago and being from the south side, she was a natural born White Sox fan. Admission to Comiskey Park was only 10 cents, she said.
Both Baughman and Statler said their parents always had cars to travel in. Baughman said she still remembers when her parents bought their first enclosed car and she had to learn how to close the windows.
Changes in engineering and technology, Osincup said, have evolved immensely in her lifetime. She said young people do not communicate with each other as well as they used to because of devices like cellphones.
The biggest change Baughman has seen is the value in money. She earned 10 cents an hour for babysitting. She once remembered babysitting two small kids for a neighbor and her duties included hanging up clothes, cleaning out the washer and doing the dishes. “She wasn’t gone quite the hour so I didn’t get the full 10 cents. She counted out eight cents,” she said.
For Osincup and Statler, there were some hurdles after getting married. After Osincup and her husband met at Cornell College, they had to transfer to the University of Iowa.
“The reason we were able to be married the summer before our senior year was that was the only college or university in the whole country that let you be married as undergraduates,” she said. They later opened Osincup Walgreen Agency Drug Store in Washington.
Keeping a job after getting married was a tricky thing, Statler remarked. She worked at a telephone office, but had to keep it a secret to keep her job once she was married. The company found out after a year-and-a-half and she was fired.
Baughman spent most of her life in Chariton and ran a suburban grocery store but during the war, worked at a shipyard in San Francisco. Her job was to assist the foreman in putting the ships together because he was foreign and could not read the blueprints. Because she was a woman, she was not allowed to be in charge.
One of her favorite memories from that time happened after work one night. Being so far out on the coast she said there was no radio, newspaper or television around to let them know who was going to be performing at the Fox Theater that night.
She said once they walked in, they were told an up and coming singer would be performing. Baughman said she had never heard of him but judging by the dozen or so screaming girls in the front row, he must be someone important.
It was Frank Sinatra.
Back at home, the big entertainment was the television. Baughman said the first thing she remembered seeing was a Notre Dame football game and she knows exactly what she said about it.
“One of them got hurt and I said, ‘You can even see the hurt on his face.’ I thought that was really something you could see the pain right on his face,” she said.
Statler said the first thing she watched was Arthur Godfrey and Osincup, who had children by that time, was too busy to remember what she first saw. Baughman said having a television was great, but if you were the first person in the neighborhood to get it, there was a catch.
“You had company every night,” she said with a laugh explaining she had to fix a whole meal for everyone after getting home from work.
While living in Chicago as a child, Osincup said she would often listen to the radio station in town for entertainment. She said when she was 12, the station started to put together a serial radio show. This one was based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie.
“My girlfriend and I got to be the child singers who would introduce the program by singing on NBC Blue in 1931,” she said.
Statler said performing in plays for her parents at the Straw College is a memory she holds dear.
“They would put the curtain up and we would get out there and sing. The school house would be full of our parents. Oh we were so excited,” she said.
Baughman said one Christmas her aunts and uncles took her sledding and basking in the attention was one gift she treasured. However, they all confirmed there is one gift in particular children have been trying to avoid for decades: clothes.
“We had to be satisfied with a neck scarf or mittens but if we got a doll that was great,” Statler said.
Baughman said her favorite Christmas gift she ever got was a fountain pen, but she knew it did not come from Santa. She said she figured out the secret but decided not to tell anyone just in case she would stop getting presents.
Ninety-nine Christmases later, each woman is going strong and looking forward to their 100th one. As for advice to future generations who would like to be in their situation one day, Baughman and Statler said work hard and be independent but Osincup had one more thing to add: be kind.
“I think we’re here on this earth to relate with everyone and to treat them like we want to be treated. Do that: be kind even if you don’t like them or what they do and don’t judge them. Just be kind, no matter what, and do unto others,” she said.