Marking a century: Evelyn Telfer celebrates 100th birthday

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Evelyn Telfer laughs at a remark her son, Gordon, made on Wednesday at her home in Big Rapids. Evelyn celebrated her 100th birthday Wednesday. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Evelyn Telfer laughs at a remark her son, Gordon, made on Wednesday at her home in Big Rapids. Evelyn celebrated her 100th birthday Wednesday. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — Evelyn Telfer greeted her hundredth birthday on Wednesday with a smile on her face.

“I don’t know whether I feel old or not. When I go to get out of a chair is when I feel old,” she laughed.

Born on July 1, 1915,  in Denver, Ind., she was the third of four daughters of Clinton and Mary Robbins. Her father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and moved the family to Reed City, where Telfer grew up.

“Every summer as soon as school was out, Mom and Dad would put us on the train in the care of the conductor,” Telfer recalled. “He took care of us until it was time to transfer to another train, where another conductor would take over. We’d continue that way until we got to Indiana, where we met our uncle.”

The girls would leave the train in Deedsville, Ind., where they’d go home with their uncle. After a few days at his farm, they would head to another family member’s farm to stay for a few days.

“We’d go from farm to farm so we could play with all the kids,” Telfer said.

At the time, she was in grade school and her mother worked in the grocery store in Reed City. After visiting their extended family, the girls would make the train trip in reverse and head home for the remainder of the summer.

She graduated from Reed City High School in 1934 and married Gavin William “Bill” Telfer on Oct. 16 of that year. He was attending Ferris Institute, later to become Ferris State University, and studying pharmacy when she met him, shortly before he earned his license.

The couple lived in Big Rapids, where Bill worked for Fairman’s Drug Store until he decided he wanted to go back to school.

“Charlie Fairman didn’t like that very well,” Evelyn said with a laugh.

While Bill taught pharmacy classes at the Grand Rapids College of Pharmacy, a part of Davenport Institute, he also earned his master’s degree in bacteriology.

During World War II, the Telfers returned to Big Rapids so Evelyn would be near her mother and mother-in-law because Bill decided to enlist. He joined the U.S. Navy and worked in hospitals around the country.

“I was left with two little kids, but it didn’t seem to bother me any as long as he was happy,” she recalled.

After returning from the service, Bill worked for Martz and Shapley Pharmacy until his death in November 1966. The couple had four children: Gordon, Thomas, Gavin and Mary. Evelyn has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Shortly before Bill’s death, Evelyn received a call from Dick Donley, the Big Rapids school superintendent at the time, asking if she could help in the kitchen at the then-high school on Warren Avenue because one of the kitchen girls was out sick.

“I called Bill to see if it was all right and he said, ‘It’s perfectly all right, if you want to do that,'” Evelyn said. “So, I went in and worked.”

Her children were all grown, and working in the kitchen helped fill Evelyn’s days. Soon, Donley offered her full-time employment and Evelyn ended up becoming the head baker. She worked for the school for 17 years until her retirement in 1981.

BOWLING TEAM: This Schuberg Insurance Agency bowling team photograph hangs in the hallway of the agency on Michigan Avenue in Big Rapids. Evelyn Telfer is in the middle. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BOWLING TEAM: This Schuberg Insurance Agency bowling team photograph hangs in the hallway of the agency on Michigan Avenue in Big Rapids. Evelyn Telfer is in the middle. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

In her younger years, Evelyn was active with the American Legion Post No. 98 Auxiliary for about 60 years until her health made getting to meetings more difficult. She also enjoyed bowling and was part of the Schuberg Insurance Agency bowling team for 40-some years.

“I loved that,” she said. “I stopped bowling because had my right knee go out on me and I’m a left-handed bowler. I quit bowling about the same time I retired from the school.”

“She bowled at all the bowling alleys in Big Rapids,” said her son, Gordon Telfer. “The one over the A&P Store, where Penney’s is now; the one across the river, Eastgate Lanes; Big Rapids Lanes and Casanova Lanes, south of town where the Michigan Works! office is now.”

40 YEARS: Evelyn Telfer (front row, seated on the right) bowled on the Schuberg Insurance Agency team for 40-some years. She and her teammates gathered when the agency was honored for sponsoring the same team for so long. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

40 YEARS: Evelyn Telfer (front row, seated on the right) bowled on the Schuberg Insurance Agency team for 40-some years. She and her teammates gathered when the agency was honored for sponsoring the same team for so long. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

She’s an avid baseball fan, particularly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, though her loyalty is due to the general manager more than the team. Clint Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager, is her grand-nephew; her sister Lucille was his grandmother.

Lucille’s husband played for the Big Rapids Independents. Later, when Clint was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, the team became Evelyn’s favorite and she’s followed his career with interest.

Baseball has always been a family affair for Evelyn. Her father was a Cubs fan and would sit listening to games on the radio when she was young.

“I can shut my eyes and still see him sitting in his rocking chair, listening to the game,” she said. “That was the first time I got interested in baseball.”

When she’s not watching a baseball game, these days she enjoys pastimes from the comfort of her living room. Evelyn enjoys watching television, particularly “Gunsmoke,” and reading. Her favorite authors include John Grisham, Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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