Marion Orvedahl, wearing a graceful blue flower dress, which she made herself, strolled into an expansive living room in her daughter’s home in Oakton.
The Reston resident’s movements were smooth and deliberate, but without assistance, toward an oversized love seat. A gold necklace with pearls and a pin-on corsage complemented her outfit. Still, during a family reunion, Orvedahl’s attire took second prize to her brimming birthday smile. She turned 100 last Thursday, Sept. 7.
Just moments after Orvedahl situated herself in the middle of the room, family members soon assembled around her like at a campfire. Some of the stories they had heard, while others were new or forgotten.
As a survivor of the Dust Bowl, the Depression and two World Wars, Orvedahl revealed the two pillars of longevity. “I’ve said for a long time, it’s hard work and common sense,” she said.
“I’ve never smoked,” said Orvedahl.
“She’s never tasted alcohol,” said Orvedahl’s daughter, Grace Crocker of Oakton.
“I make all my own clothes,” continued Orvedahl. “I have since I was 15.”
ONE OF SEVEN siblings, Orvedahl grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She had no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing. “There was an artesian well and we had cold water in the kitchen and that’s as far as it went,” said Orvedahl, cataloguing her home’s amenities.
“She was seven when she saw her first car,” said Crocker, chiming in.
Orvedahl and her sisters all had similar taste in men, according to Crocker. “My mother and her two sisters married my father and his two brothers,” she said. It’s certainly made reunions easier.
On Sept. 2, 1941, Orvedahl married Alfred Orvedahl in Las Vegas. The night of their wedding, a blackout was scheduled to protect those working on Hoover Dam. Around 10 p.m. after having dinner, the couple arrived at their hotel. “We pulled up to the door, and bingo, the lights went out,” said Orvedahl, who added that they left the door open that night.
The couple took residence in southern California, in Culver City, and had two daughters. Her husband took a delivery job with Helm’s bakery. “He was lucky. He had a good route,” said Orvedahl.
Jean Harris, a niece who had heard the story many times, explained that delivering baked goods back then was “like the ice cream truck.”
Her husband, who later owned a hardware store, died of a heart attack in 1965.
HAVING TRAVELED by horse for many of the early years of her life, Orvedahl remembered some of the cars she drove over the years. She said her first car was a 1924 Plymouth coupe with a rumble seat, which she drove after getting married. After that in 1952, she drove a Chevy Impala, which she gave to Crocker when she went to school. Later, Orvedahl drove a 1966 Buick. “I had lots of fun in it, driving up and down the west coast,” said Orvedahl, recalling fond memories.
According to Crocker, when her mother finally sold the Buick in 1992, she received more that she paid for it.
Orvedahl’s younger sister, Charlotte Rose, who is 92, never got behind a wheel of a car until she was 25. Orvedahl said she first flew on a plane in 1962. “I boarded a puddle-jumper to Modesto, [Calif.],” said Orvedahl.
FOR MORE THAN 40 years while living in Culver City, Orvedahl had the same telephone number and the same bank account number. But it reminds her how much has changed in her lifetime. “The cars, houses, roads,” she said. “Things have just changed more and more.”
Five years ago for Orvedahl’s 95th birthday, the family had a similar reunion in the area. “Everybody went home on Sept. 10, 2001, and made it,” said Crocker.
In 1998, Orvedahl moved to Reston. A year ago, she moved into Tall Oaks Assisted Living. She continues to volunteer, which has always played a large part in her life. She still makes lap quilts for the elderly and baby hats for newborns.
Orvedahl, who has had five pacemakers put in over the years, admitted that nowadays she occasionally gets winded. “Some days, I feel young. Some days, I feel old.”