There were many firsts in Gertrude “Ella” Ellison’s life.
There was the first time she saw a radio. The first time she saw a 1932 Ford.
Now, another first: her 109th birthday.
“I never thought I’d see 109,” said Ellison.
But Ellison turned 109 on May 16, celebrating with her fellow residents at Stafford Suites in Sumner and a room full of family members and neighbors eager to wish her a happy birthday.
Laura Fehrenbacher, community relations director for Stafford Suites, said Ellison is the oldest resident the facility has ever housed.
“She’s super sweet,” Fehrenbacher said. “She’s a wealth of history and knowledge.”
Ellison’s story begins on May 16, 1908 in Minnesota. A few weeks after she was born, her parents took her to South Dakota, where she would spend her childhood and early adulthood, in Pollock. With eight siblings, Ellison spent a lot of her time reading or playing outside. In the winter, she’d ice skate on patches of water that had frozen.
“I wasn’t a pro, but I enjoyed it,” Ellison said.
During World War I, Ellison’s mother belonged to a group of women who sewed buttons on the hospital gowns of soldiers. At 10 years old, Ellison would learn how to do the same.
“After school, every night, we’d go down there and learn how to sew on buttons,” Ellison said. “All of it had to be done by hand.”
In her early 20s, Ellison worked as school teacher. During the Great Depression in 1937, Ellison and her family moved to Washington state, settling in Puyallup.
“The bank had closed, and everything was tough,” she said. “My mother had always wanted to come to Washington, so we did.”
The bank had closed, and everything was tough. My mother had always wanted to come to Washington, so we did.
Gertrude “Ella” Ellison
As they crossed into Washington, Ellison remembered her father saying, “I think this is paradise.”
Ellison’s family moved around a bit before settling down in Sumner. Ellison worked in the kitchens for the Sumner School District. When administrators found out she used to teach, they encouraged her to return to school to get a degree in education, so she did, attending Pacific Lutheran University and graduating in 1968.
Ellison married her husband, Roy, who passed away in the 1960s, and had three sons: Burt, Wilton and Russell. Burt graduated in 1963 from Sumner High School, while Russell graduated in 1959. Wilton attended Auburn High School.
“My boys are sure good kids,” Ellison said.
For 15 years, Ellison was the neighbor of Teresa and Blase Yost. The couple visited Ellison on her 109th birthday.
“She was the best neighbor ever,” Teresa said, adding that her children would visit Ellison and eat some of her “infamous” gingersnap cookies. “The kids just loved her.”
At her current home at Stafford Suites, Ellison enjoys listening to audiobooks, now that she can no longer read them due to bad eyesight. Ellison’s family is thankful that her memory is still sharp.
“It’s a blessing, especially with her ability to remember,” Burt said. “It’s really a view of early American culture.”
It’s a blessing, especially with her ability to remember. It’s really a view of early American culture.
Burt Ellison, Ella’s son
“When I think back to when we are kids to how things are nowadays, it’s almost unbelievable,” Ellison said.
Ellison’s sons say that she’s lived a long life because she ate so much oatmeal. But all jokes aside, Ellison said she can’t truly account for it.
“I always faced whatever was in front of me and did it,” she said.
Now, Ellison has eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“I’m so thankful that I’ve lived so long to see how my family has turned out,” Ellison said. “I’m living a good life.”