Springfield woman celebrates 100th birthday by taking first road trip since restrictions eased at long-term care facility

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On the centennial celebration of her life on this earth, Gwen Northington was about to take her first road trip away from the south Springfield long-term senior care facility she had lived in since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out over a year ago.

She had celebrated her 99th birthday on June 25, 2020 in quarantine at the Cedarhurst Senior Living facility, isolated from family and friends because of the restrictions placed on all nursing homes during the pandemic’s darkest days.

She spent that birthday under glass, gazing out her window like a fish in an aquarium at a small group of friends and family who stood in the parking lot waving signs and singing “Happy Birthday”. But there were no hugs or kisses as the closest they came to touching was rubbing a hand up against the window.

“I don’t know that anybody else has had a birthday party at the window,” Gwen said at the time. “Can you imagine the world this way?”

Unfortunately we could because we were all experiencing it and wondering if it would ever go back to the way it was.

“She doesn’t understand that the whole world has changed since COVID-19 has happened,” her daughter Martha Ivie said at the party last year.

While senior care facilities lost a lot of patients during the pandemic, Gwen vowed to survive until her 100th birthday.

“I probably will,” she replied when asked if she’d make it to the century mark. “I’m too ornery.”

And sure enough she did.

On Friday that milestone also meant freedom for Gwen as she was taken in her wheelchair to the senior care facility’s bus and given a ride to nearby Archie’s Italian Eatery for her 100th birthday party. It was less than a five-minute trip, but for someone who hadn’t been out of her home since she was 98 years-old, it was a wonder to behold.

“I saw a lot of things I’d never seen in Springfield before,” she said of the changing landscape she saw on the south side of town.

And the birthday celebration was definitely different too.

This time there were no windows between her and her loved ones and some 50 well-wishers from as far away as California and Texas showed up to administer those long-awaited hugs that couldn’t be done through glass.

“We took four days to get here,” said Gwen’s son Doug Northington, who traveled in an RV from California with nine other family members. “After 1,600 miles it’s amazing. COVID has limited so many people. This is great.”

“My mother has done really well through this rough time,” Martha said. “If we think it’s difficult for us to be quarantined, just think how bad it is in the nursing home when they can’t have anybody come and see them. It’s just through a window. So we’re blessed to have this today. God has blessed us.”

“It’s wonderful to know that this many people care,” Gwen said as she looked over the crowd.

The group included her three children.

“There’s a couple I won’t claim,” she said with a laugh.

There were also seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, some of whom Gwen had never met before.

“It’s great,” Gwen said. “You wonder who they are and where they came from.”

“Her memory has deteriorated some,” her daughter Martha said. “But she still has moments where she’s sharp as a tack.”

It’s certainly obvious that she’s quick-witted and loves to have fun. A birthday hat she was wearing said “Let’s Party” and she wasn’t kidding. There’s video of her dancing with an employee at the long-term care facility during her birthday party there earlier in the week, and on Friday her son Ken gave her a margarita. Gwen took one sip, winced, blinked her eyes a couple of times and announced she’d had enough.

Family friend Robert Wallace pointed out that Gwen’s sense of humor has always been evident.

“Two years ago for her 98th birthday we all converged at Lambert’s and Gwen decided she was going to pay the bill for everybody,” Wallace said. “She couldn’t find a pen so they have those Crayolas on the table for kids to draw with and she signed her signature on the check with crayon, thinking it was as funny as can be. I’m like, ‘Gwen you know you’re using a Crayola crayon to sign your name with right? This is a legal document.’ She said, ‘What are they going to do to me?’”

And this fun-loving birthday gal hopes to make some more road trips as well.

“Gwen, hats off to you honey,” Wallace said. “We’ll see you at 105 years, O.K.?”

“105?” Gwen replied. “Now you’re pushing it!”

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