Today is my one hundredth birthday.

My children decided I should have a birthday party last Sunday at the Gathering Place in Sidney. My son Craig and his wife Sharon came from their home in Seattle to help out. Bob and Jeff arrived after taking part in RAGBRAI, the annual bicycle ride across Iowa.

Many of Sharon’s family drove from Milwaukee to join us. They all stayed at Lona Lewis’s Country Diamond Inn on Horse Creek in the bluffs west of Sidney. Instead of sounds of the city, they could wake up hearing cicadas and cattle.

All of them pitched in to decorate the Gathering Place. The table cloths were purple because of one of my favorite poems, “When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple.” There were beautiful flower arrangements on each of the tables.

Bob and Claudeen had put together displays of photographs from my life. Those were placed on the tables and around the room.

Of course there was birthday cake, served by my granddaughter Amanda and her three Milwaukee cousins, Melanie, Anna, and Faye Muma.

So many wonderful people came to celebrate with me. They were from as far away as New York City and Portland, Oregon, and as close as Sidney, Farragut, and Shenandoah.

Emmy Bengston came early. She is one of my longest friends in life. She and her family lived near us when Robert and I moved to a farm south of Farragut, and we have been close to one another ever since.

Next were Chuck and Carla Offenburger. I’ve known Chuck since he was in high school and starting his long newspaper career by covering Shenandoah sports for the Evening Sentinel.

After Chuck and Carla was Karin Mason, my good friend and curator of the Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa library.

And so they came, one after another, people I have known and loved through the decades. They signed the guest book as they came in, and then stopped to talk with me. Since I cannot see, one of my sons sat next to me to help me know who was arriving.

People visited. Oh, how they visited with one another. The Gathering Place got noisier and noisier as they enjoyed each other’s company. I had not expected so many people. More than a hundred signed the guest book.

The program portion of the party began with my grandson Nick Birkby singing a benediction. It is a piece I’ve heard him sing for years, and I love it. Even though it is meant to end a service, it seemed just right to open this program, and he did it beautifully.

Nick’s sister Amanda read a poem I had written on my 21st birthday. I had also asked my sons if they would each play a piano piece. They agreed, and their music filled the Gathering Place with joy.

Marty Mincer also sat down to play. He gave us several solo piano pieces and a rousing version of Happy Birthday with us all singing along. I loved every note.

I had a chance to say a few words, too. I told everyone that when I had turned 90, I had decided I was not going to have a grumpy old age. If I lived ten more years, I was going to be positive for all that time. I keep my mind clear. I would be sure to drink lots of milk.

I have tried to live up to that plan. I think it is helping keep me around. I plan to stick with it as long as I can, being positive all the way.

By 4 pm, my energies were disappearing and I was ready to come home and take a nap. In the days to come I will go through the many cards I have received.

I want to say thank you to everyone who came to my party and to all of you who have sent kind thoughts my way as I have reached this landmark birthday.


The cake at my birthday party was a delicious swirled marble cake. Here’s a delicious marble cake recipe from a column I wrote in 1994.

Marble Cake

2 ¼ cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup butter

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring

½ teaspoon almond flavoring

4 egg whites

1 ½ ounce baking chocolate, melted

Sift the flour and measure. Combine with baking powder. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and thick. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with milk. Add flavoring. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into mixture. Divide the batter between two bowls and add the melted and cooled chocolate to one of them. Alternate spoonfuls of the white and chocolate batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan, or an angel food or bundt cake pan. Use a table knife to cut back and forth in the batter once to swirl. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes for flat cake, about 50 minutes for angel food or bundt cake.

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