Turning 100 on Saturday, Feb. 5, Mary Nixon has lived through some of the most interesting history in the U.S.
A child during World War I, a young woman during the Great Depression, a working military wife and mother during World War II, she started life in Indiana.
“I was born on February 5, 1911, to Lewis and Anna Utley in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, the youngest of four children, three girls and one boy,” she said.
Her father was a schoolteacher and later a postmaster.
She received her education in Evansville, Ind. and following graduation she took the Federal Civil Service Exam.
“The test was difficult,” she said.
The exam started at 8 a.m. and continued until noon, then resumed at 1 p.m., concluding at 3 p.m. It covered a tremendous range of topics including math and history, as well as typing. Mrs. Nixon earned high marks though, and in 1931 was appointed as a secretary in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C.
“I lived in Washington during the last part of President Hoover’s administration and the first year of President Roosevelt’s administration. I attended the inaugural parade for Roosevelt on March 4, 1933, which was the last time the inauguration was held in March.”
She was torn about accepting a job that would take her so far from home, especially because her mother was ill at the time.
“My mother didn’t want me to go, but my father said since I had worked so hard and did so well, I should take the job. Besides, he said there wasn’t any work for me there in Evansville.”
Mrs. Nixon said she was also reluctant to leave her boyfriend, Owen Sharp, whom she married in 1933.
Still, she went ahead and left home for Washington, D.C.
“When I got off the train and got a cab, I asked the cab driver to take me to somewhere close that I could get a room. There isn’t any way you could do that today.”
She lived in a women’s hotel — which had formerly been the home of Woodrow Wilson — sharing a room with another young career girl from southern Indiana. “She came from a little town only about 30 miles from where I grew up.”
Mrs. Nixon’s work at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations involved typing the rules and regulations for the ships. Her bosses were William H. Standley and Adm. Cyrus Cole.
Her boyfriend eventually joined her in Washington, D.C. and she helped him get a job as a soda jerk, she said.
After her marriage, she transferred to the Naval Air Station in San Diego, Calif.
“My husband served in the Army Air Corps during World War II,” she said.
He was 33 when he was drafted and was shipped to North Africa, serving there and in Italy and Europe.
“I continued working for the Federal Government (with the Navy and Veterans Administration) until 1955, when I accepted the position of secretary and office administrator for my church. I served in that capacity for 12 years before resigning to stay at home. My husband, Owen, died in 1968.”
Living with rationing during World War II was hard, she said. The thing she missed the most was bananas. What was more difficult was finding someone to take care of her young daughter, Marylyn. She finally found a woman and her daughter who could provide care. She also had a sister living with her while her husband was away. The sister worked in the business office of the San Diego Tribune newspaper.
Three years after the death of her first husband, she married Milo Nixon, a retired pastor who then served as an interim pastor in various Southern California churches and also as administrator of a Christian retirement home. Upon his death in 1991, she moved to Arizona where her daughter and family live.
In addition to her daughter, Marylyn Knoner, Mrs. Nixon has three grandsons, one great-granddaughter and three great-grandsons.
“I was the first resident at the Good Samaritan Majestic Rim, moving in on June 1, 2006, where I still reside,” she said.
Mrs. Nixon has been almost fully independent until recently, she fell and broke her pelvis in late January and is recovering at Payson Care Center.
When she is released, her neighbors and the staff at Majestic Rim are planning a belated birthday bash and homecoming celebration.