Longtime Canby Resident Celebrates 101st Birthday with Family

While many aspects of daily life have returned to normal or, at least, what could be called a “new normal,” there are some things that still require a great deal more strategy and maneuvering than they once did.

Planning a birthday for a centenarian and long-term care resident is one of those things.

But, after having to celebrate a 100th birthday through a window and walkie-talkie last August, longtime Canby resident Irene Wolfe’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were determined to do whatever they could to ring in her 101st in person this year.

Photo by Tyler Francke.

It happened in waves, with small groups of family members — all wearing masks — arriving throughout the day to visit and celebrate with the lady most of the youngsters still know as “Grape Nana” — a mispronunciation of “great-nana,” but also a reference to her habit of bringing bunches of the fruit to church every Sunday as a snack.

The oldest resident at Canby’s Marquis Hope Village, Irene was born on Aug. 22, 1920. She married Merrill Wolfe and raised two boys, Jay and Steve, in South Dakota before the family relocated to Beaverton.

Irene and Merrill moved to Canby in the 1980s, where they lived on the Willamette Valley Country Club’s golf course — right next to Hole 13 — and raised their grandchildren to love golf as much as they did.

Photo by Tyler Francke.

“I’ve golfed all my life,” Irene said Sunday. “I used to golf every day.”

Family members related how Merrill, who passed away in February 2012 at the age of 91, even taught their 10 grandchildren how to drive on a golf cart. Irene didn’t remember that far back in history, but…

“It sounds like something he’d do,” she chuckled.

Photo by Tyler Francke.

Despite her advanced age, Irene remains active, spirited — and as sassy as ever. Asked by one grown grandchild how it feels to be 101, she quipped, “Old!”

And when this reporter asked about a something he’d heard from one of her granddaughters — that Irene had the habit of drinking two Black Velvets (an old-fashioned cocktail consisting of equal parts dark beer and champagne) a day up until just a few years ago — her face wrinkled into an expression of amused bewilderment.

“I would say that one of my granddaughters talks too much,” she declared with a hearty laugh.

Photo by Tyler Francke.

Irene is an avid player of card games — her favorites are bridge and pitch — and a voracious reader.

“I love to read,” she said. “I still read a lot. I read whatever I can get my hands on.”

Irene, who is of Norwegian descent, was the rock in her family through difficult times, her loved ones said, and was particularly sought out during the holidays, when she would cook traditional favorites like lefse.

Photo by Tyler Francke.

“She’s absolutely unbelievable, really,” her son Steve said. “She’s gone through a certain amount of bad times in her life, but she was always the focal point for our family. She provided excellent care to our father when he had heart trouble. And she put up with Jay and me, which was no small feat.”

The Wolfe clan did not get to celebrate “Grape Nana’s” 100th the way they would have liked in August 2020 — before a Covid-19 vaccine was available. Marquis Hope Village staff brought Irene to the library, where she visited with her entire extended family through a window, using a walkie-talkie to communicate.

“I painted a great, big sign and we put it on the lawn for her,” Steve recalled. “One group at a time came up to the window. It was humorous and a bit chaotic and just a skosh on the overwhelming for her.”

Photo by Tyler Francke.

But on her 101st, Irene was all smiles. She said she had no advice to offer anyone else aspiring to reach the triple digits.

“No wisdom,” she said. “I’ve just got good kids. It was nice to see them. I’ve enjoyed today.”

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