Phyllis McElroy, a Centennial Lady

  • 2022-04-16, 05:00 AM
  • Jo Petteruti
Phyllis McElroy, a Centennial Lady Courtesy of granddaughter Korena Mewaldt Phyllis McElroy relaxes at home after celebrating her 100th birthday.

Born in 1922 shortly after the Spanish Flu, the first Ponzi scheme, and women gaining their right to vote, and just a few years before the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal. Now think about how much has changed since then, and you'll begin to get an idea of all that Phyllis McElroy has seen in her 100 years.

Born in Hollister, California, Phyllis Weigel was the second child of five. Dorothy was the oldest, followed by Phyllis, then Lauren, Robert, and Norman Dean. Phyllis was born on March 20, and because of that was always called the spring chicken. “Growing up, we always had pets. A black and white cat, a black and white monkey, a black and white dog, black and white rabbits, and chickens that were black and white too. We named the pet monkey Grandpa because he had a white face that was all wrinkled. But after he bit my dad, we had to give him away.”

Phyllis studied plants when she was young, learning the scientific and Latin names. She read all of the World Book Encyclopedias back in 1938 and 1940. “One statistic that stuck in my mind was that most children were born in August.”

She didn't go to college like her sisters. Dorothy became a nurse and Lauren became a general surgeon and an M.D. But she did finish high school which was still quite an accomplishment for a lady back then. “I wanted to be a nurse too, but I got to do other things instead.” She sang in the church choir and played the piano for years until recently when her eyesight started failing. Her mom taught her how to play at a young age. Her sisters would sing with her, Dorothy a tenor and Lauren an alto. “We enjoyed singing together very much and sang in church all the time.”

In 1941, Phyllis married Joseph McElroy who worked many years for the telephone company. They were married for 70 years when he passed in 2011 at the age of 93. They had two children together, Jeff and Laurel. The family has now grown to include three grandchildren, Korena, Craig, and Shani, and seven great-grandchildren, Crystallena, Heather, Hannah, Connor, Cullen, Emma, and Currin. Plus, their first great-great-grandson, Max arrived on February 27. Korena's daughter Heather is his mom, and the family is trying to gather all five generations for a family photo.

Phyllis said she and John moved to Fallon in 1986 for fewer taxes. “My husband didn't want to pay all those California taxes. He also liked to work on his car, and they started passing rules where you couldn't work on your own car in your own driveway.” In Fallon, she raised raspberries, apricots, tomatoes, and other vegetables. They also had a peach and a fig tree, lots of flowers, and many other plantings. A green thumb certainly runs in the family. Korena said, “I loved going to grandma's house when I was little. All the neighborhood kids liked to play in her yard, and she would always have an oatmeal cookie ready for each of us. Her oatmeal cookies are famous in our family, and her bonbons are too.”

Mewaldt’s Organic Farm was started by Korena's husband, William in 1984. Phyllis lives with Korena and Bill and taught Korena all about gardening when she was growing up. “I would play in her garden, and she encouraged me at an early age. She would double-dig her garden which took up half of their backyard, turning in the compost as she went. I didn't know or appreciate how much work that was until I got older and tried to double-dig myself. I couldn't understand how she could do that,” to which Phyllis replied, “We just love plants.” She also taught Korena and Bill the organic composting methods they still use on the farm today. “I've followed in her footsteps with the gardening.”

Phyllis helps at the farm by planting garlic, putting it up in the fall, and was even pulling weeds until two years ago. She still reads her bible every morning and loves to do word search puzzles – the extra-large print versions. She's a member of Fallon's Seventh Day Adventist Church and is also an avid walker doing her 30 minutes of laps inside the house these days. “I try to keep moving. It hurts a lot more, but I still do it.” Korena said, “She's determined, for sure.” Phyllis corrected her, saying, “I'm a stubborn person, but I don't want to live for another hundred years.” Korena chuckled saying, “I didn't say it, she said it. But she has made to a hundred.” Phyllis has outlived most of her family, the older ones anyway. “I've lived this long because God has let me. I don't know what that reason is but I'm still here, and maybe for a while yet.”




Jo Petteruti



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