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New Year’s celebration is Oregon centenarian’s 101st

Eugene woman among growing number to reach milestone

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Norma McNutt reflects on 100 years of life, speaking Tuesday at her home at Cascade Manor in Eugene, Ore.
Norma McNutt reflects on 100 years of life, speaking Tuesday at her home at Cascade Manor in Eugene, Ore. (Photos by Brian Davies /The Register-Guard) Photo Gallery

EUGENE, Ore.  — Let’s call this New Year’s 101.

Because 100-year-old Norma McNutt has — literally — been through this a hundred times.

And Friday she celebrated her 101st New Year’s Day, having experienced her first as a 4-month-old on Jan. 1, 1916.

“That’s a lot of years to live,” says McNutt, sitting in her apartment at the Cascade Manor retirement home in south Eugene. “I’ve been very well healthwise, and I have no secrets.”

She was born on Aug. 29, 1915, in Roundup, Mont., and has lived in Eugene since her family moved here in 1922, when she was 6.

McNutt is part of a still rare but fast-growing segment of both the U.S. and world populations: centenarians.

The U.S Census Bureau projected the nation’s population would hit 322,762,018 on Friday, an increase of 2,472,745 since Jan. 1, 2015.

How many of us are 100 or older?

According to the Census Bureau’s most recent figures for centenarians, from July 1, 2014: 72,197. Add to that how many people have hit 100, as McNutt has, since then, subtract those who have since died, and there’s your number.

A steady increase, for sure, since the 53,364 centenarians counted in the 2010 census, and far more than at the time of McNutt’s birth in Montana a century ago.

(The 1910 census, five years before McNutt’s birth, counted 3,555 centenarians in the United States, according to The New York Times.)

The 1980 U.S. Census counted 32,194 people 100 or older, but a decade later, the 1990 census cautioned there were large errors in 1980 and all decades before for the 100-plus category. This was partly because of mistakes by respondents. (A 1990 estimate, using Social Security Administration data, put the 1980 number closer to 15,000).

Nonetheless, the leap has been significant, and the numbers are expected to increase rapidly in the coming decades.

The Census Bureau’s centenarian projection for 2050? More than 600,000.

The numbers in Oregon, according to researcher Charles Rynerson at Portland State University’s Population Research Center: 677 folks 100 or older in the 2010 census, 540 of them women, reflecting the approximate 80 percent of centenarians nationwide who are female.

Lane County decline

Seven of those 677 Oregonians in 2010 were supercentenarians, someone 110 or older, including Delma Kollar, a Creswell woman who died on Jan. 24, 2012, at the remarkable age of 114.

The Gerontology Research Group, which verifies the ages of supercentenarians worldwide for the Guinness Book of World Records, put Kollar as the world’s fourth oldest person at the time of her death.

Oddly, though, Lane County might be one of the few places where the number of centenarians appears to be declining, according to the PSU research group’s numbers.

The 2010 census included 62 centenarians (49 of them female) in Lane County, compared to 94 (67 female) in 2000.

Tough as bones

McNutt is doing her part to keep the local numbers up.

Not even a compound fracture of her left wrist last year could keep her from celebrating a century on Earth with family and friends last summer.

She fell getting out of a chair, says one of McNutt’s four children, Molly Preston, 74, of Seattle. An attendant found her bleeding, the bone poking through the skin, and called 911. “And a month later, she’d forgotten all about it,” Preston says with a laugh.

Preston and older brother Bob McNutt, 77, enjoyed listening to their mother answer a reporter’s questions earlier this week.

“You’ll have to speak up,” Bob McNutt, of Eugene, gently warns more than once.

Norma McNutt may be very hard of hearing, and her short-term memory challenged, but ask her when she married her husband of 68 years (Ronald Earl “Bill” McNutt, who died at 89 in 2003) and she doesn’t hesitate: “June 23, 1935,” she says.

They were married at the First Congregational Church when it was on East 13th Avenue (later a funeral home and now the Bijou Art Cinemas), says Mike McNutt, 63, Norma McNutt’s youngest child.

He — as well as another son, Jim “J.P.” McNutt, 65 — lives in Eugene.

Their father, Bill McNutt, ran a farm in Harrisburg during the 1940s and was a Eugene city councilor from 1964 to 1968. Bill McNutt’s father, Earl McNutt, served as Eugene’s mayor from 1945 to 1949.

Skeie’s Jewelers legacy

Norma McNutt’s parents were Ole Larsen Skeie and Anna “Mamie” Rogne Skeie. Both were born in Norway and immigrated to the U.S.

Her father, trained as a watchmaker in the family jewelry business in Norway, opened Skeie’s Jewelers at 927 Willamette St. (where Kesey Square is now) upon moving to Eugene in 1922.

Ninety-four years later, it is still in business at Oakway Center, and still family owned and operated by a family member, Rick Skeie, who is Norma’s nephew.

Mike McNutt has worked for the family business for 36 years, more than 20 as general manager, and is still a salesperson there.

“I think she handles stress really well,” Mike McNutt says, when asked about his mother’s longevity.

Or maybe it’s all about the jeans, or lack thereof?

“One thing I think mom is famous for is she never wore any jeans,” Preston says. “She’s always been very concerned about how she looks. She’s always dressed to the nines. Have her jewelry on, her hair done, her clothes matched, even her purse matched.

“She’s never embraced the casual.”

All in moderation

On this day she is dressed in purple slacks and matching purple buttoned sweater, her blonde hair finely done.

Besides having four children, Norma McNutt has 11 grandchildren and at least 10 great-grandchildren.

She was the youngest of her three siblings who grew up at 1736 Olive St. Brother George Skeie died at 77 in 1991; and sister Lucille Skeie Hamaker died at 91 in 2003, according to Register-Guard obituary records.

Her parents died in their late 70s, Ole in 1959 and Mamie in 1961, Mike McNutt says.

So, Norma McNutt’s century mark is unprecedented in the family.

Asked about some of her lifelong habits, daughter Preston kids her about her vodka intake.

Yes, she still drinks alcohol but only moderately.

Precisely one vodka martini per day.

“Usually in the evening, before dinner,” McNutt says.

As for smoking, she thinks for a moment, then says with a chuckle: “A long time ago, maybe. Secretly.”