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‘Life is what you make it’

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ester B. Fleck-Huish, 103, shows off her arm at her home at the Community Center at Aspens on the Creek in Medford on Wednesday.
Medford resident Ester B. Fleck-Huish, about to turn 104, still likes to show off her throwing arm

At 103 years young, Medford resident Ester B. Fleck-Huish loves to tell stories about her life and show off her physical strength, throwing a decent fastball to her 65-year-old friend while sitting down.

Fleck-Huish spoke to the Mail Tribune Wednesday ahead of the 104th anniversary of her birth, Jan. 27, 1918.

“I’m blessed,” Fleck-Huish said, before quoting her motto, “‘Your life is what you make it.’ I’m very strong on that. I tell people, ‘don’t quit living.’”

She moved to the Rogue Valley in 2002 and now resides at Aspens on the Creek, an RV community. It’s the same kind of housing Fleck-Huish sold as a real estate agent before retiring at the age of 84.

“I love it to this day,” said Fleck-Huish, noting regrets about leaving Los Angeles, where she learned to become a Realtor, had her own office and impressed a male-dominated industry.

Long before succeeding in the big city, Fleck-Huish was just a Wisconsinite who loved playing in snow 25 feet deep as she grew up with her grandfather.

She described herself as a “tomboy” who loved to play sports — and she credits that for her love of throwing a ball, still.

Interestingly, Fleck-Huish attended Ashland High School — though named for the small Wisconsin town bordering a bay that bleeds into Lake Superior. She worked at a boarding house all four years, doing chores ranging from bed making to bread baking.

Once Fleck-Huish learned shorthand and how to type, her first job was for the police chief of Ashland, Wisconsin.

She later left for Milwaukee, where she lived with a bunch of girlfriends. But, Fleck-Huish claimed, she was the only one who could land a job — at least initially. The only way her friends survived was by the mounds of White Castle cheeseburgers Fleck-Huish brought home each night after work.

Her stories with female companions would continue later in life, as it did when Fleck-Huish wanted to take a Greyhound Bus from the Midwest to Seattle, where her cousin lived. But Fleck-Huish’s roommate “got upset when she learned I was going to leave.”

“She wished she could go to Seattle, also,” Fleck-Huish said. “We decided to hitchhike.”

In those days, the 103-year-old noted, it was safe to hitchhike.

“Not today,” Fleck-Huish said.

Her journey with her friend involved transportation from generous and “handsome” police officers, who also asked them out on dates.

Most of Fleck-Huish’s memories of the trek involved stops in the West, including Salt Lake City, Utah and Moscow, Idaho.

In the predominantly Latter-day Saints city, Fleck-Huish recalls seeing Temple Square and meeting so-called “Jack Mormons.” Across state lines, in the northerly potato country, Fleck-Huish and her friend were not able to stay in Moscow, because rodeo attendees beat them to all the available rooms.

From Idaho, the two young women ventured to Spokane, where Fleck-Huish ended up meeting her husband, a Navyman.

“He was persistent enough (that) I ended up marrying him,” Fleck-Huish said with a laugh.

As a newlywed, she had a couple kids and moved around the West following her military husband. But Fleck-Huish was also a go-getter.

“I was always very, very lucky at getting a job,” Fleck-Huish said. “I could always find one.”

It wasn’t long after she and her husband settled in Hawthorne, California — using funds from the GI Bill to buy their first house — that Fleck-Huish’s persistence paid off. Jack Northrup, the man who founded Northrup Gruman, was impressed and hired her.

“One of my jobs was in this building where they were developing the wing,” said Fleck-Huish, referring to an ambitious aircraft by Northrup that lacked a tail or traditional fuselage. “I have pictures of the wing.”

She later switched gears away from aerospace and marketing and obtained a real estate broker’s license.

Not long after that, a developer asked Fleck-Huish to sell his homes. It came with a deal to build her an office on the affluent Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California.

“I sold (homes) faster than anybody else,” she said. “Suddenly, other developers started coming to me and asking me, ‘what do you do? We have a development going and all of the sudden, you’re all sold.’ I said, ‘I teach my people how to sell.’”

A life of selling homes is what got the soon-to-be 104-year-old into the unit she now occupies. One of Fleck-Huish’s neighbors is Delores Tejcka, age 88.

“How we met each other, we played Bunko here until the virus started,” she said. "Everyone loved her because she was a super-classy lady.”

Fleck-Huish is also known for her “sharp” and “unbelievable” memory — and her doctors know it. Although Fleck-Huish’s health is fragile.

“She’s a miracle,” Tejcka said.

Her son, Curt Tejcka, loves Fleck-Huish and is happy to be her baseball catcher.

“Even though she’s lost her hearing, you can tell she’s still pretty sharp,” Curt said. “She amazes me.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.