Grace Hopper didn’t think turning 99 Sunday was all that significant.
“Ninety is big; 100 is big,” she said.
Statistics would say she’s correct. The centenarian population in the United States has roughly doubled in the past 20 years and, according to the Census Bureau, is projected to at least double again by 2020.
But 99 is significant.
Adeptly steering her wheelchair through the halls at Enumclaw’s High Point Village assisted living facility, Hopper has a lot of thoughts on life and aging.
“It’s what’s ahead that counts,” she said. “When you get old you’ve got to have your ticket for getting into heaven.”
Hopper credits her religious background, which began before she was born, for the many blessings in her life.
Her parents began missionary work in Korea in 1907. Hopper arrived Sept. 18, 1912, and spent most of her early life with the family in Korea.
She recalls riding in rickshaws and watching farmers tend fields with oxen.
“Cars were just arriving,” she said.
She said women braided their long, dark hair down their back and if they were married they wore it up. “That’s how you could tell who was available,” she said.
Hopper remembers a country filled with manufacturers, inventors, dentists, doctors and talented entertainers who went unnoticed until Korea briefly became its own country.
“You couldn’t even own a flag when I was there,” she said, but her father had one. “It was secretly made by a woman there. He kept it between his mattress and springs.”
Hopper has passed that flag down to her daughter.
“It was good years for us,” she said. “Bad years for Koreans.”
Her family was encouraged to leave in 1931, before the war.
Hopper left Korea for Wilson Presbyterian College in Pennsylvania. She then attended seminary in Manhattan, where she met the man who became her husband.
She comes from a long family of ministers. Her father had three sons and three daughters, all became or married ministers.
It’s that religious background that Hopper attributes to her long life and sticks to now.
“It was a blessing to grow up in a family that steered you into a path you could be happiest in,” she said.
Her husband, Howard, was a Navy chaplain during the war. After, he spent time as a salesman and dairy farmer.
Hopper taught school and raised three boys and a girl.
Howard, three years her senior, died at age 96.
There are two things she attributes to her longevity.
The first is a good diet, free of sugar, and filled with healthy foods and supplements. The second is her faith.
She said she’s always tried to be a good wife, mother and teacher.
“Being forgiving, unselfish, thoughtful, you learn those things on earth,” she said.
“The Lord is giving me time to learn,” she said. “He said, ‘She’s got a lot to learn,’ and he’s giving me plenty of time.
“I sure wouldn’t want to get old without him, and sure don’t want to die without him,” Hopper said.
What she’s learned lately, she said, is she’s a glove and she’s asking God to put his hand in it.
At 99 years old, she said, “It makes the future very exciting.”