When Myrtle Rakowski observes her 101st birthday today, don't be surprised if she has a few sips of beer with her birthday cake.
During a lifetime that has been extraordinarily long and extremely difficult, Rakowski was known to enjoy a beer now and again. But she never smoked, even in an era when most people did, and she stayed strong by walking everywhere she went.
Born in Warren, Minn., just 12 miles from the Canadian border, the Payson resident moved to the west coast in 1936 where she experienced the Great Depression, World War II, and a divorce that left her to raise her four children by herself.
But through it all Rakowski was always willing to help a family member.
"During the Depression, she took everybody in," her daughter, Payson resident Betty Davis, said. "One sister had an army tent in the back yard; another had a trailer.
"At one time, there were actually 18 people using one bathroom in her house."
But when her husband left her, Rakowski's family didn't return the favor.
Besides raising her children and caring for her father, she had to walk two miles to work, where she was paid 95 cents an hour to wash dishes.
"They used to say, ‘Poor Myrtle, Joe left her with the kids and she don't have anything,'" Davis, who is 70, said. "But poor Myrtle is still kicking and they're six feet under."
What makes Rakowski's feat of living to 101 even more amazing is that she weighed only three pounds at birth.
"She was the oldest of seven and the runt of the litter," Davis said. "They put her in a shoe box by the stove. She had no eyelashes and no fingernails. Her dad didn't want to touch her."
But there were also highlights to Myrtle Rakowski's life.
When they lived in Seattle, she loved to go to vaudeville shows with her mother. One time she got to shake Charlie Chaplin's hand.
Her second cousin was Gene Krupa, the big band-era drummer.
"When I was a kid we went to the Palladium downtown, and he was playing there, and mother got to dance with him," Davis said.
Rakowski loved to bake, and was known for her homemade bread and biscuits. She also enjoyed playing the nickel slots at the casino when she was still mobile.
Today Rakowski uses a walker to get around the house. And while she doesn't talk a lot and her memory is spotty, she is otherwise in good health.
Rakowski has four children, 13 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and eight great, great-grandchildren.
Last year, on her 100th birthday, family members gathered in Riverside for a big celebration.
"We had five generations there," Davis said. "Oh, we had a big shindig."
This year, for her 101st, Davis plans a much smaller celebration. She'll take her mother to the casino in a wheelchair.
When asked how long she would like to live, Rakowski replied,
"You live as long as God wants you to live."
And what's the secret to her long life?
"Oh jeez," she said and laughed. But then her face brightened and she added, "You have to live right," she offered. "You have to do what's right."
"‘Do unto others,'" Davis added. "She used to say that a lot."