At 100, local woman humble about her long life
Lucy White reaches the century mark today, but how she did it is a mystery, even to her.
By JUDITH ZACCARIA
Lucy Steele Harsh White, who celebrates her 100th birthday today, is as surprised as anyone by her longevity.
"You prick yourself to know it - you hardly realize it," says the centenarian, visiting in the room she shares with her husband, Horace, almost 99, at Winfield Rest Haven. "I don't take much credit for it myself. It's God preserving us from some very narrow escapes. I could have been killed. We could have been killed," she says and reaches to touch Horace's arm.
Lucy recalls a time they were helping a grandson clean a house. Horace went to clean the stove but he didn't know the pilot light was still on. She was standing near the door so she got outside quickly. Before there was an explosion or fire, Horace "handled it pretty quick" so neither of them was hurt.
She's still beautiful, with big eyes, high cheekbones and a wide smile. She ties her white hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, but wisps float in the breeze from a fan. She sits in a wheelchair, but her voice is strong, her wit sharp. She could be any age over 75.
Horace sits in an easy chair, his head cocked to one side to catch what one says because his hearing isn't very good. Sometimes he plays with his hair when he gets distracted. But he's as sharp as she is, remembering dates and events even more accurately, she says.
Lucy's age is remarkable even in her family. A cousin, Nathan Harsh, from Tennessee, has seen family genealogical records and wrote on a birthday card, "As you know, you have lived longer than anyone with Harsh blood has ever lived since Dr. Philip Harsh came to the U.S. in January 1816."
Lucy's physician, Dr. Alvin Bird, told her, "You have seen a century go in and a century go out."
"I like that," she said.
Lucy was born Oct. 14, 1900, at the White Eagle Agency in Oklahoma where her father, Lee Cheatham Harsh, was the proprietor of the trading post. When she was two, the family moved to Ponca City where her father ran a grocery store.
Her mother was Fannie Tyree Barry Harsh. She had a sister, Thankful Mae Harsh Boylan, and two brothers, Lee Cheatham Harsh Jr. and David Franklin Barry Polk Harsh. They are all deceased.
In Ponca City the family first resided at 211 S. Sixth and later at 212 S. Sixth where Lucy lived until her marriage in 1956.
"I was the youngest, so I stayed home and looked after my parents," Lucy says. "I'm sorry they didn't live to see me married."
She first met Horace, who was from Lincoln County, Kentucky, in 1913, when he went to Ponca City to visit his aunt who lived across the street from the Harsh family.
"They had open saloons then in Ponca City," Horace says. "They put them out after the sinking of the Titanic."
Horace later married someone else and moved to California.
"I knew Horace's wife and his children," Lucy said.
Horace worked for public works departments. During World War II he worked in the California shipyards.
His friendship with Lucy continued over the years. After his wife's death, he wrote and phoned a little, Lucy says.
Then one night in 1956, he made a call that changed their lives.
"It was a Saturday night," Lucy says. "He called and asked me to marry him. I said yes, and when we got off the phone, we both had to lie down, it was such a big step."
Horace drove from California to Ponca City, arriving there Tuesday night. Wednesday morning they rushed around making preparations for the wedding and were married in the afternoon at a church parsonage. "I'm sorry we didn't invite more people to the wedding," Lucy says. "My sister and two brothers were there." She was 55.
Lucy and Horace returned to California where they resided near her husband's two children until returning to Ponca City in 1971.
On one wall of their room at Rest Haven is a plaque honoring them on their 44th anniversary. How have they made a success of their marriage? "It takes two to make a fuss," Lucy smiles. "You get that? I kept my mouth shut."
They moved to Winfield Rest Haven in October 1989. They've had a good time living there, Lucy says. "It's clean. They try to make you feel at home. It's not your home but they try."
The extraordinary adventure of having lived a whole century has not been lost on her. "I've thought a lot about it," she says. For her the most exciting event of the last 100 years was putting a man on the moon. "Who'd have ever thought that anybody could go to the moon?"
She also mentions the car and the telephone as inventions that changed everyone's life. "I can still remember the phone number in my dad's store: 222."
Though Lucy is sure life has improved in many ways, she also says she is "happy to have lived in those old days when we practiced being our brother's keeper. I praise the Lord for my life. We need to praise the Lord more."
Like Lucy, Horace takes no credit for what he's done in his life. "God has done everything for me. I'm almost 99, on Nov. 18."
Horace has his own ideas, however, about what was the best part of the 20th century. "My wife," he says, "because she's the most lovable person I ever met in my life."
At noon today the residents will share a special luncheon and her favorite cake with Lucy. This afternoon from 2 to 4 her four nieces and a nephew will host a reception for her at Rest Haven. The family requests no gifts, but cards can be sent to her at the facility.
This document was last modified October 14, 2000 and is copyright © 2000 by the Winfield Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved.