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A century of family and love

Esther VanGordon says she doesn’t have much use for social media, unless she’s looking at pictures of her grandchildren — or great- or great-great-grandchildren.

After a century of life, she’s generally happier with more personal contact.

“The biggest thing nowadays is probably technology everywhere — them all being on their phones all the time,” she said during a recent belated gathering to celebrate her 100th birthday at Avamere in Medford. “Someone visits and the phone usually rings. They’re always plugged into it. It didn’t used to be that way so much. If someone needs to talk to me, they call me on the regular phone or come see me. ... I don’t have any use for smartphones.”

Born Aug. 13, 1918, just months before the end of World War 1, VanGordon offered no magic elixir for longevity but said a positive outlook and a large, loving family are definite advantages. Even so, she shrugged off all the birthday fuss.

“It’s no big deal. It’s just another birthday,” she said. “I feel more like I’m in my 70s. I don’t feel 100.”

Noting she raised four children and outlived three husbands, VanGordon’s family said her positive outlook and good genes likely contributed to her longevity, while her devotion as a mother and grandmother help explain the large number of family members who dote on her.

A native of Santa Paula, California, VanGordon moved to Southern Oregon at age 26 with her first husband, Walter Packard, Sr., and three children in tow. She remembers housing standards were far different in the mid-1940s between Southern California and the rural community near Wilderville where the family moved to help run her mother’s general store.

“My son was the third-oldest and he was only 6 months old when we moved here. My daughter was 8 years old, and when she found out we had outside toilets, she said, ‘Let’s go back to California!’” VanGordon recalled with a grin.

After almost 18 years near Grants Pass, the family relocated to Medford, where VanGordon spent five years as a manager for a dairy bar and more than two decades volunteering for the Medford Clinic.

She was married nearly 60 years to her first husband, five years to her second husband, Raymond Robowski, prior to his death, and more than a dozen to her third husband, Clarence VanGordon.

Walt Packard, VanGordon’s now 75-year-old third-born, said his mother’s positive attitude had been passed to following generations.

“She outlived three husbands, which were all pretty amazing men, and she’s a grinder,” Packard said. “She just keeps going. She’s not a complainer. She just takes life as it comes. All I remember as a child is a childhood where we just got what we got, and it was OK.

“We never had a lot of money, so we made do, but it was a happy life. She’s always been there for me and for our family.”

VanGordon’s granddaughter Kelly Packard of Medford credited VanGordon for her love of old stories and playing games. The younger Packard grew up in Hawaii but spent summers in Southern Oregon before moving to Medford as a young adult.

“I remember playing Skip-Bo — I’m actually a champion at it now because of her — and just playing all kinds of games. She just would spend her time and always wanted to just hang out and be with us. She is someone who makes time for people.

“One time, she came to visit us, and I had a little suitcase with some pants and underwear and shoes. She was loading the car and my dad said, ‘What is this tiny suitcase?’ They looked inside and it was all my stuff. I loved her so much that I wanted to go home with her.”

Now with 10 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, VanGordon said if there’s a secret to life, it’s probably the simple act of caring for others.

Kelly Packard said her grandmother jokes about Snapchat, marvels that milk used to cost 25 cents and wonders which of her three husbands will be waiting at the pearly gates.

VanGordon said, however things go, it’ll be interesting.

“Wait until I get to heaven,” she said. “Because, let me tell you, all three of them are gonna know a few things!”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschAidyn Abbott, 9, visits with his great-grandmother, Esther VanGordon, during her 100th birthday party in Medford.