BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY - 103 YEARS AGO

Mildred Franke celebrated her 103rd birthday on Independence Day. Franke looks over old photographs with her step-granddaughter Ramona at Rose Arbor.

By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

HERMISTON — When Mildred Oliver Franke was born 11 miles from Sisters in 1903, the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) had just come to New York, the first Teddy Bear had been introduced, the vaccine against typhoid was discovered, the first Tour de France bicycle race began, the Wright Brothers made their first flight, the first Western film "The Great Train Robbery" was released, the first baseball World Series was played, and the automobile electric starter was patented.

A lot has changed in 103 years.

Franke quietly celebrated her 103rd birthday at her home in Rose Arbor on Tuesday. Franke's father was a cowboy before starting a freight business. In those days, he hauled loads of freight between Shaniko and Sisters using a team of horses. Six to eight horses pulled the load down steep canyons and across narrow bridges.

"When I was 12 years old, Dad quit freighting, sold his horses and went to Heppner," Franke recalled. "We lived between Heppner and Lexington on a big wheat ranch."

After two years, Martin Oliver bought "four big horses" and went into the logging business in Sandpoint, Idaho. Moving to Idaho, says Franke, she was sick all the way there. She had scarlet fever, she remembers.

"That's what they thought it was," Franke said. "I guess it was."

Franke had dreams of being a teacher, however, her father didn't see the need for education for his two daughters. She went to school for a total of about 20 months, she says.

At 18 years of age, Franke married a young man who worked with her father in the logging business. They had three boys, but one of them died in infancy. After 10 years of marriage, she left her husband and moved to Mitchell where she lived as a single mother for 14 years.

At the age of 42, she married Clarence Howell, a sheep shearer and a medical masseur. During sheep shearing season, the couple traveled from California to Montana. While at home in Palm Springs, Calif., he took care of the massage needs of his wealthy clients, one of which was Elizabeth Taylor. Franke remembers seeing Bob Hope, Red Skelton and other famous movie stars during that time.

The Howells moved to Irrigon when Franke's parents could no longer take care of themselves. While there, the couple developed a chicken and pig business. Howell died at the ripe old age of 94. At 87, Franke married Lloyd Franke and shared eight and a half happy years with him before his death.

Despite her age, Franke does pretty well, says stepgranddaughter Ramona Franke.

"She has good days and bad days," Ramona said. "She eats in the dining room and can still pull herself up."

Although Franke says she smoked and drank a little when she was younger, genes have played a large part in her longevity, says Ramona. Franke's parents were 92 and 99 when they died and her brother was 96.

"Her sister lived to be 102 or 103," Ramona said. "She wanted to beat her sister in years."

The 103-year-old woman has been to Israel twice and crocheted the curtains in her window as well as most of the arm rests on the chairs and sofa in her room. Nearly all of Franke's handkerchiefs have crocheted edges. Her mother taught her to crochet when she was eight years old.

An old photograph of Franke shows her as a 14-year-old girl standing in the woods, the boughs of the fir she stands in front of wrapping around her like a cloak. She smiles somewhat shyly for the camera, her eyes sparkling. If you look closely, you can still see that teen-age girl in Franke's face.

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