In a milestone that most people don’t reach, Alma Pruitt celebrated 99 full years on this earth last week. A formal birthday party was held for her on Saturday at the Sapulpa Senior Citizens Center, where she was crowned with a tiara and surrounded by friends and family. As she sat in front of a coconut icing birthday cake, her party guests sang Happy Birthday to her. She was all smiles.
Alma is hard of hearing, but otherwise surprisingly sharp for a woman of her age. It was not diffcult for her to recall life growing up in rural Arkansas, nor her time of service overseas in World War 2. She spoke with Sapulpa Times about hot summers and said they swam every day.
“There were two apple trees on the way to our swimming hole,” she began. “We used to eat the apples every time we walked by. My mother thought we were wasting them, so she told us, ‘you stop picking those apples.'” She paused for a moment, and then continuing with a growing grin, “So we did! We climbed the trees and ate the apples still on the branches. We left the cores there, hanging,” she said, as those around her laughed.
Though she lives with her daughter Jane, she remains active, and says it’s a secret to her longevity.
“I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, I always stayed very active.
In fact, “active” might be an understatement. Until about five years ago, Jane said her mother was on her hands and knees, digging in the garden, every year. Before her last husband died, the two of them traveled extensively. Alma says she visited almost every state in the union.
She went white-water rafting with her whole family when she was 93.
It’s the evidence of a life lived in pursuit of fun and doing things differently, and rolling with whatever comes. Alma enlisted in World War 2 as a teletype operator and was a critical piece of the United States’ communication with our allies. “Everything was in code, so I didn’t know what I was typing, but it must’ve been important,” she said.
After she returned from overseas, she went to Tulsa Business College and got a degree in accounting—something almost unheard of for women in those days. She worked for a number of businesses in the oil and gas industry, usually in their accounting department. Meanwhile, she introduced her family to a love of traveling that they still have today.
“I remember on the last day of school, that car would be packed and ready to go,” said Bobbie Rhyne, one of Alma’s three daughters. “We would drive over and pick up the cousins, and we would all go to the Smokies,” she said. Alma listed the Smoky Mountains among her favorite locations. “I really loved going there,” she said.
In the 1970s, while living in Okay, Oklahoma, a trailer house that Alma and her brother were living in was struck by a tornado.
“We asked mother, ‘what we should we do?’ She said, ‘go get quilts and get in the ditch!’ My brother went and got the quilts (my mother made lots of quilts), but my brother brought the wrong ones—they were the good quilts.” She said they were ordered to go back and get the older quilts when the tornado struck, picking up their tiny trailer sixty feet in the air, turning it upside down, and plopping back onto the ground.
“The walls collapsed outward, but none of the lights went out,” she said. “My dresser looked like it was setting on the ceiling. The refrigerator door fell open, but nothing broke.”
Miraculously, everyone survived with almost no injuries.
These days, Alma takes it easier, starting each day by reading her bible, and getting as much exercise as she can by walking around the house and to the porch, occasionally. “I play lots of games, and that’s about it!” she says. She did say that until her eyesight began getting worse, she was reading four or five books a month, and her daughters say she is exceptionally good at Angry Birds. “She must be the world’s oldest Angry Birds champion.”
She has not only her own four children, but twelve grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren. All of whom adore their family matriarch.
“She’s really lived an amazing life,” her daughter Jane said. “And it’s made ours that much more memorable.”