LaVerne Bunney has a secret, but won’t share it. On her 110th birthday Monday, she was asked several times about the key to her long, long life.
“It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you,” Bunney happily told party guests before blowing out candles — not 110 of them, but three candle numbers: 1, 1 and 0.
Wearing a lavender blouse and a sparkling smile, Bunney was surrounded by generations of loved ones and friends at Brookdale Arbor Place, the Everett senior living community where she has lived since 2008.
She was born April 15, 1909, in Carrington, North Dakota, to Guy and Rose Batesole. “I was the oldest,” said Bunney, who had three sisters and three brothers. The youngest, Dale Batesole, is living in California. “He’s 18 years younger than I,” she said.
In 1909, William Howard Taft had just succeeded Teddy Roosevelt to become the nation’s 27th president. Taft wouldn’t visit Everett until 1911. Everett’s original Snohomish County Courthouse burned in 1909 after a blacksmith’s sparks lit a fire that destroyed 12 buildings. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair, was staged on the University of Washington campus the year Bunney was born.
Bunney can’t claim to be Washington’s oldest person. Puyallup’s Gertrude Ellison turned 110 in May 2018. Our state lost one of the nation’s eldest in 2015, when Emma Otis, of Poulsbo, died at 114.
At Brookdale Arbor Place, a 110-year-old’s birthday is as rare as Bunney is extraordinary.
“This is record-setting,” said Gary Jacobs, the facility’s executive director. Bunney keeps busy, is upbeat and loves reading — she doesn’t even need large-print books, Jacobs said.
“She’s pretty amazing,” said Bryce Bosket, the facility’s chef. Bunney “knows what she likes” at mealtime, he added.
Bunney has been a widow for 30 years. Her husband, Robert Roy Bunney, also born in 1909, was 80 when he died in 1989. A roads engineer, he was a private contractor who worked on the Mountain Loop Highway, area bridges and other projects, according to Bunney’s grandson, Doug Ware, 67, who traveled from Arizona for Monday’s party.
LaVerne was 19 when she and Robert Bunney were married in Minot, North Dakota. They moved to the Northwest — “for one thing, the winters weren’t as cold here,” she said — and raised four children, three girls and a boy. Two daughters, Dolores and Darlene, have died.
Sitting next to his mother Monday was her son, Bob Bunney, who is almost 90. Her 81-year-old daughter, Joan Oravetz, was there, too, sharing memories of their childhood.
“She was a great mom. She taught us how to work,” said Oravetz, of Sequim. She recalled how her mom liked to memorize poetry and would sing while braiding her daughters’ hair. The Bunney family lived on Everett’s Wetmore Avenue, and later on Colby Avenue near what would become Everett Community College.
For a time they had an Everett ice cream business, “like Dairy Queen,” said Oravetz, who remembers working with her mom at the shop on Rucker Avenue.
Her hearing, not what it used to be, makes conversations a bit loud. Her answers sometimes come slowly. Her face lit up Monday when someone asked if she liked to bake bread and cinnamon rolls, treats she had long been known for.
On Monday, LaVerne Bunney relished two slices of cake — one white, the other chocolate — at a table decorated with candy Easter eggs and a decorative bunny. Great-great-grandchildren joined other loved ones in singing “Happy birthday to you …”
Craig Bunney, 66, said he has never thought much about his grandmother’s age. No one would guess by looking that she’s 110.
“She just keeps going and going,” he said. “She reads and she has a good attitude — I think that’s the most of it.”