At 100 years old, Sara Wilson is full of life, attending yoga at least once a week, reading mystery novels, cooking, cleaning and taking care of her lawn. She still lives on her own in the same house …
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At 100 years old, Sara Wilson is full of life, attending yoga at least once a week, reading mystery novels, cooking, cleaning and taking care of her lawn.
She still lives on her own in the same house she and her late husband, Frank Wilson, bought when they moved to southeast Arvada in 1951. The home, one of Arvada’s first post-war housing subdivisions built by Chet Hoskinson, sits between Grandview Avenue and Old Wadsworth Boulevard. It is one of Arvada’s oldest remaining homes.
A clothesline hangs in the yard where Wilson hangs her wash to dry when weather permits.
When the Wilsons bought the home, it was surrounded by cornfields and irrigation ditches. It was before I-70 was built through Harlan and 48th and when Carr Street was still a dirt road.
“This was when the majority of Arvada was still farmland,” Wilson remembered, “and the Harvest Festival was really a place where you could buy what the farmers had the most of that year.”
Wilson, who celebrated her 100th birthday July 16, is a first-generation American. Both parents moved from Italy to Dawson, New Mexico, then a prosperous coal mining town, in the early 1900s. She is one of eight children and the only one still living.
An ever-moving life
Wilson moved to Denver in 1939 at age 20. She worked as a nanny and then at the Breakfast Shop, a cafe on Broadway between the Shirley Savoy and the Cosmopolitan hotels. Neither hotel is there now.
“I was there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” Wilson said, as she sat in her living room. “When they opened the Remington Arms, my sister and I applied and started working there.”
At the beginning of the U.S. involvement in World War II, Wilson worked at the Remington Arms Munitions Plant in Denver loading incendiary power into bullet casings. The site is now home to the Denver Federal Center.
Wilson worked at Remington for 18 months before the site closed.
In 1943, she moved to California and married Buck Rodda, a U.S. Marine. Five days later his unit shipped overseas. At the time, Wilson was working on airplane wings at the Northrop Aviation Plant in Englewood, California.
Two months later, she received a telegram that her husband had been killed in action in the Marshall Islands.
She left California in 1944 and headed back to Dawson to be with her father who was ill with black lung disease. There, she reconnected with and married Frank Wilson, who had been a high school classmate.
Frank worked in the mine’s mechanic shop. When the mine closed in 1950, the couple moved to Denver with their children, Nancy and Robert. They lived in a converted garage on 29th and Vallejo before buying their Arvada home a year later.
In 1961, Frank fell ill and Sara went to work at Foster Elementary in Arvada in the cafeteria.
That’s the same year she learned to drive.
She got her driver’s license at 44, driving a 1959 Chevy Impala Wagon with no manual transmission, no power steering and no air-conditioning to work each day.
Frank died in 1968 of cancer. At that time, Sara took a second job working nights and weekends at the Denver Dry Goods Company. She also moved from the Foster cafeteria to the Arvada Junior High cafeteria.
“I had to have two jobs when Frank passed away,” Wilson said. “I only made 95 cents an hour.”
Celebrations ‘exhausting but wonderful’
Wilson retired from Jefferson County Public Schools in 1984 and retired from the Denver Dry Goods Company when the store closed in 1987.
As a retiree, Wilson kept busy and stayed active by watching after her granddaughter.
She spends most of her days reading, doing crossword puzzles and watching old movies and sports. She attends Mass at Shrine of St. Anne in Olde Town Arvada and has been regularly attending exercise classes at Apex Community Recreation Center since she retired more than 30 years ago. She’s done aerobics and Tai Chi. But yoga is her favorite.
“Yoga helps my back — the stretching,” she said.
To celebrate her 100th birthday, Wilson had a party with about 80 friends and family, including her two children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The party was followed a week later by one at her church and another the next day with her friends from yoga class.
“It was exhausting, but wonderful,” Wilson said of the parties, showing off a stack of birthday cards.
When asked what advice she would give to her community after 100 years of life, this what she had to say: “Everybody should be kind to one another.”
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