Longtime volunteer still going strong at 100 in Stanwood

STANWOOD — Martha Bandy doesn’t call herself a volunteer.

Her attitude is that if something needs doing, just do it.

And Bandy, who turned 100 on Saturday, is still doing what needs to be done.

She’s made quilts for Grange raffles, lap robes for people in nursing homes, and when her daughter worked as a pediatric nurse and told stories about needy families with new babies, Bandy collected used clothing and sewed new infant items to give away.

“We should do something about that,” has been the call to action throughout her life.

When Bandy moved to the Lincoln Hill Senior Apartments nearly 10 years ago, she worked outside. People would find her bent over pulling dandelions from the flower beds. And now that she is a century old, Bandy continues to help others by delivering leftovers from the noon meal at Stanwood Senior Center to some of her neighbors who don’t get out much.

“What you call volunteering is just a way of life,” she said. “It’s instinctual.”

Bandy’s life includes a stint as a “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II and caring for her large extended family, including her daughter, Gayle Neer, 74, of Camano Island, and son, Kenneth Bandy, 82.

Before her well-attended 100th birthday party last week, Bandy sat in the senior center dining room dressed in a smart pantsuit and bright red earrings, joking with people that the story of her life is much too long.

“I’m 100. You want the whole sordid history?” she said. “Well, we were poor fruit pickers. I never smoked, nor drank. I worked hard and I got my sleep. It was a great life when you add up all 100 years.”

Born Feb. 25, 1912, in Indiana, Bandy rode the train west with her family when, after World War I, her father got a job in a logging camp near Chehalis. From there the family moved to Arizona, harvesting crops along the way. Though she was a bright girl, Bandy had to quit high school so she could earn money to help her family at the start of the Great Depression. She worked as a nanny, a laundress and then as a waitress at one of the first drive-in root beer stands in America.

“That was more fun than any other job I had,” she said.

One day, a handsome young guy from California named Bud Bandy drove up on his motorcycle and ordered a root beer.

“He stayed on and we got married,” she said. “So there we were, my sister and her family in one bedroom, my husband and me in the other, my parents on the porch and my siblings wherever they could lay their heads. The rent on the house was $15 a month, but we couldn’t really afford it. We never went hungry, but we ate a lot of pancakes and gravy.”

Bandy remembers driving the wood-plank roads across the desert to California when they all left to find better job prospects there. In the following years, Bandy raised two children, took in ironing and cleaned houses while her extended family worked in a cannery, tried mining for gold and ran a dairy farm in northern California.

“But it was the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps that got the men in my family back to work. They were trained in the trades, they joined unions and they got insurance,” Bandy said. “Those programs truly helped my family. We need those again.”

During World War II, Bandy joined the ranks of Rosie the Riveter and Wendy the Welder and went to work in Eureka, Calif., welding the floating dry docks that were to repair Navy ships at sea.

After the war, she took what was supposed to be a temporary Christmas job at JC Penney and ended up working for the department store for 25 years.

“They made you retire at age 60 or I would have kept working,” Bandy said. “Gosh sakes, after that though we traveled around the West. We hunted deer, we fished and we square danced. We were married 61 years.”

Bandy has been a role model for many.

“My mother has been taking care of others since she was a girl,” her daughter said. “Whatever life brought along, her attitude was you do what you have to.”

Bandy was still driving up until two years ago when she gave her car away because she didn’t want to pay the insurance just to drive down the road on Sundays to Cedarhome Baptist Church.

Now she gets a ride to church, but she still makes her way to the senior center to eat lunch, visit with friends and play pinochle, cribbage and Skip-Bo.

“She does well with games,” said her son-in-law, Bill Neer. “She’ll beat me three out of five times and is a great intuitive card player.”

Bandy has never missed an election.

“My father always said if you don’t vote, you have to keep your mouth shut,” Bandy said. “Well I like to talk too much, so I always vote.”

She takes only one medication, does her isometric exercises, remains frugal, writes her own checks, manages her own voicemail and thoroughly enjoys people.

“Martha is an example to others,” said Cindy Ferrell, a cook at the senior center. “She has such a positive attitude and she never stops smiling.”

After lunch one afternoon last week, Ferrell loaded up a to-go box for Bandy’s neighbor, Erling Skrinde. Bandy secured the box on her walker and at a quick pace, headed off down the hall.

“It’s getting late,” Bandy said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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