WEST PARIS — On Saturday, Aug. 6, Dorthy Clark of West Paris will turn 100 and join the unofficial centenarian club in Maine.
So what is the secret to her longevity?
“No secret,” she says, showing off a sly smile, which is framed by her chin-length white hair.
It’s Sunday, July 31, and Dorthy – who’s donning a blue tennis-like skirt, a dark blue top complete with white vines and purple flower print and bright pair of white New Balance sneakers – sits in the common room near the brick fireplace at Ledgeview Living Center. She’s visiting with her sister, Jeanette Roderick of Norway, her roommate, Adria Wright, and Adria’s son and daughter-in-law Kenneth and Ginger Wright.
Ginger has an idea as to why Dorthy has been able to live a relatively healthy life and reach the century mark, outliving her husband, Charles Clark.
“Being happy,” Ginger says. “She’s a happy lady. She loves to laugh.”
So how did the soon-to-be centenarian’s life – which included working for the government down in Washington, D.C., and skiing in the Alps – begin?
She was born Dorthy Barbara Pratt in East Oxford on Aug. 6, 1916, to Isabelle and Harold Pratt. She says she lived in East Oxford “for quite a while,” growing up a farm with her sisters Jeanette and Muriel and her brother, John. Dorthy was quite fond of the farm horses and family dogs.
“I like dogs,” she says, again smiling and showing off a full set of teeth.
Dorthy outlived Muriel and John as well, but Jeanette is 14 years younger than Dorthy and visits her at Ledgeview regularly.
Dorthy attended a one-room school house in East Oxford, which is no longer standing, Jeanette says. Dorthy remembers her teacher, who looked like the late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
“She looked something like her,” Dorthy says, laughing.
Her father used to tell her: “You’d get a better education if she was a better looking teacher.” Dorthy and the rest of the room laugh at the memory.
After graduating from Oxford High School, Dorthy attended the two-year Westbrook Junior College in Auburn. Shortly after graduating from there, she landed herself a job with the now-defunct Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. While living in the nation’s capital, Dorthy was a member of a ski club and took trips to ski the Alps in Switzerland and Austria.
“She was a good skier,” Jeanette comments.
Dorthy doesn’t indicate whether or not she agrees with her sister, but she talks about one particularly long trail she skied down the mountain while in Europe.
“One trail was 6 miles long,” she says. “I don’t know how long it took me [to finish].”
Dorthy moved back to the Oxford Hills in the early ’70s and soon started her life with Charlie after they married in 1972. The couple used to go camping and fishing all the time and often took road trips with their camper.
“They took the camper all the way to California. We had relatives out there she wanted to see,” Jeanette shares. “[Charlie] said he wasn’t going to go on any main roads. … I was amazed they ever made it.”
Dorthy has remained mostly independent in her later years until she fell, roughly four years ago, and then moved into Ledgeview. A recent trip to the hospital has Dorthy now staying upstairs away from Adria. The entire group hopes Dorthy will be able to do enough stuff of her own – feeding and dressing herself and making her own bed for example – to move back in with Adria and the rest of her downstairs “family,” which includes the nurses and other staff members.
“If she was making her bed, I’d help her make her bed,” Adria says, who will turn 93 in on Dec. 15.
“They’d keep track of each other,” Ginger adds.
But Jeanette believes her sister is on the upswing, as she still strives to be independent as she ages.
“She’s improved a lot. … They’ve done really good,” Jeanette says about the staff.
But separate living quarters isn’t keeping the two friends apart. Dorthy and Adria both enjoy going on rides together and getting ice cream.
And all three of the Wrights have big plans for Dorthy’s 100 birthday, which has been temporarily derailed until fall foliage season. They’re taking her on the Hobo Railroad in nearby North Conway, N.H.
In between questions, Dorthy closes her eyes and catches a little cat nap while the others chat.
Then it’s time for a photo to mark the occasion.
“Are you bored?” Jeanette asks Dorthy.
She opens her eyes instantly, shakes her head no and smiles that same pleasant smile.