Lifestyle

Marysville's Blanche Gay celebrates 100th birthday

It was a big birthday, so Blanche Gay
It was a big birthday, so Blanche Gay's family decided she needed a big birthday card to celebrate her 100 years on May 16.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — Although she's lived elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest off and on, Marysville native Blanche Gay has seen several decades of the city's history in her 100 years.

On May 16, Gay celebrated her centennial birthday with nearly 200 family members, including her great-great-grandchildren. While she no longer drives her old Pontiac, she keeps active and can remember all the way back to her childhood years as clearly as though they were just yesterday.

She was born Blanche Davidson in Illinois in 1910, and her father was killed by a train at the age of 30, the same year she was born. Her mother followed her aunt out to Washington state, after her aunt moved to Stanwood. Following a brief period in Silvana, 2-year-old Blanche and her family moved to Marysville.

"My grandpa bought what I thought was a big house at Ninth Street and Alder Avenue," Gay said. "It seemed like a castle, but it really wasn't that big."

Gay's stepfather met and married her mother three years later, after striking up an acquaintance with Gay's grandfather at Kuhnle's. Ole Johnson had dreamed of a dark-haired woman with two small children, and when he first saw Gay's mother, he was convinced that she was the woman he'd dreamed about.

"We couldn't have had a better dad," Gay said of Johnson, who worked at a mill as a shingle-sawyer. "They had eight more children, though, so at the age of 15, I left home to go live with my aunt and her in-laws in Stanwood."

Although her aunt's parents had owned and milked 30 cows, they soon turned the farm over to their son and daughter-in-law, and bought a hotel in Everett. When Blanche was called in to cook for some of the single men staying at the hotel, she met John Francisco, the man she would wind up marrying on her 17th birthday. Although that marriage eventually ended, their three children went to school in Marysville, and graduated from the local high school. After 10 years in Everett, Blanche met Clifford Gay when she was 30, and they moved to Whiskey Ridge following their marriage.

"There was hardly anything there back then," Gay said. "That area got its name because, in the tail end of the depression, people were making moonshine there."

Blanche and Cliff left Marysville in 1948, when his employers sent him to Oregon. Two years later, they'd moved to Enumclaw, where they would spend the next 35 years. Cliff went from retiring from Weyerhaeuser at the age of 62 to being hired as a display carpenter for the Jayhawks store in Enumclaw, where he worked for the next 15 years.

In the meantime, Blanche was undergoing a second act career of her own. At the age of 49, she enrolled in beautician school without even expecting to get hired in the field. When she graduated, she shared the news with her own hairstylist, Vivian Hall, who noted that she could use someone to help her on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Before I knew it, I'd been working six days a week for her for 10 years," Gay said. "I didn't even want to go into business for myself, but my husband encouraged me to turn our rec room into my shop, since we never used it. My customers from Vivian followed me, and I retired when I was 76."

In the wake of her husband's stroke, Gay returned to Marysville in 1986. Clifford Gay passed away at the age of 92, but Blanche Gay continues to paint and read and watch her hometown grow.

"I can remember when there were only 3,500 people here," Gay said. "I never dreamed it would be like this. I'm always amazed by Marysville."

When asked the secret to her longevity, Gay said, "Hard work. I'm very stubborn, but I've never been lazy."

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