LaVerne Bunney’s daughter remembers the dinners her mother prepared every Sunday. The menu was simple but special, chicken and homemade pie.
“When I was a little girl, my mother would take me to the chicken farm,” said Joan Oravetz, 82. “She’d pick out three chickens and chop the heads off.” Back home in Everett, little Joan would stand at the sink and watch her mom pluck and clean those chickens, which became the family meal.
“What a survivor, and what a good example she was,” Oravetz said Friday from her home in Sequim.
Bunney, the eldest of seven siblings raised in North Dakota, died Monday at the extraordinary age of 110.
“She was 110 years, five months and one day old,” Oravetz said. “She was a wonderful mother. I loved her dearly.”
Just five months ago, Bunney was all warmth and wit at her 110th birthday party. With generations of descendants and friends gathered around her at Brookdale Arbor Place, an Everett senior living community, Bunney had help blowing out three candle numbers, 1, 1 and 0.
In a room decorated for Easter, she relished bites of two cakes. And when asked to share the key to her long, long life, Bunney said “It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.”
The daughter of Guy and Rose Batesole, LaVerne was born April 15, 1909, in Carrington, North Dakota. She had three sisters and three brothers. The youngest, 91-year-old Dale Batesole, lives in California.
She lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She saw the invention of television and the computer. In 1909, William Howard Taft had just succeeded Teddy Roosevelt as president. Many homes in the United States didn’t yet have electricity.
“Wow — I mean wow. I have such fond memories,” said Doug Ware, 67, who traveled from Arizona for his grandmother’s 110th birthday. “She had an incredible life.”
Ware said his grandmother suffered a fall in July, and had moved from Brookdale to an adult care home in Mountlake Terrace. “My mother was in very good care,” Oravetz said.
Washington has had older folks. Gertrude “Ella” Ellison, who lives in a Sumner retirement home, is 111 and a registered voter in Pierce County. And Emma Otis, of Poulsbo, was 114 when she died in 2015.
A widow for 31 years, LaVerne Bunney lost her 80-year-old husband, Robert Roy Bunney, in 1988. Ware said his grandfather was a roads engineer and contractor who had worked on the Mountain Loop Highway, stretches of U.S. 2 and Highway 9. His wife had been a bookkeeper for the company.
LaVerne Batesole was 19 in 1928 when she married Robert Bunney in Minot, North Dakota.
“The thing that amazes me about my mother, she was sure strong,” Oravetz said. “When they got married, they were just kids. They were very poor, and had three children right away. My mother had to haul water in to heat it to wash diapers.”
Oravetz said her mother’s maternal grandmother had come from Ireland, and had 14 children. “That’s how she learned to work so hard,” she said.
LaVerne and Robert Bunney moved their family to the Northwest, with its warmer winters, and raised three girls and a boy. Daughters Dolores and Darlene have died, and son Leroy Robert Bunney is 89.
They settled in Everett, living first on Wetmore Avenue and later on Colby Avenue near Everett Community College. Oravetz said her parents enjoyed traveling, and spent winter months in California.
“My mom still said, ‘I always loved your father. He was a gentleman and he was proud of it.’” Oravetz said.
Even at 110, her mother was so mentally sharp she played Scrabble. “People she hadn’t seen for years and years, she would have to think a minute — but it would come to her,” she said.
Ware loved his grandmother’s baked goods. “She would make fresh bread almost every week. She’d make cinnamon rolls and all kinds of delightful things,” he said. He has happy memories of a trip he took with his grandparents to Lake Louise in Canada.
While Bunney didn’t offer tips for living to 110 at her party, Oravetz learned a few of them.
Since losing her mother, she’s been spending time in a rocking chair. She said her mother told her “it’s good for your circulation.” And lots of reading was on Bunney’s advice list.
“And you don’t need to go to exercise class,” Oravetz said. “She said to go out and work, go out in your yard.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
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