Happy 105, Romaine Davidson!

By on July 13, 2016
Romaine Davidson celebrated her 105th birthday July 10 at the General Sutter Inn.

Romaine Davidson celebrated her 105th birthday July 10 at the General Sutter Inn.

What’s the secret to reaching your 105th birthday?

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret,” says Romaine Davidson, who turned 105 on July 10.

That’s right, this clever, engaging Lititz woman was born on July 10, 1911. On her 105th birthday, friends and family gathered at the General Sutter Inn to mark the milestone in her long and fulfilling life.

According to Davidson, she’s just as surprised as anyone that she has lived so long. She doesn’t have any clear-cut advice for someone who wants to follow in her footsteps. She always ate well, drank only in moderation, and exercised. She has always loved her coffee. She drinks a cup for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and in the evening. She likes it black with just a little cream.

“I guess my best advice would be to just keep breathing,” she says with a smile.

Five years ago, when Davidson was 100, she got a birthday card and note from Willard Scott of NBC’s Today Show. Her family also marked the occasion by noting the characteristics of the woman they know as Aunt Romaine.

“Everyone wrote a word down, just one word,” says Thelma Hess, who is Davidson’s niece. Hess’s late father was Davidson’s brother.

The words they used were wise, generous, thoughtful, thrifty, disciplined, strong-willed, resilient, proud, independent, open-minded, awesome, brave and amazing. They regard their Aunt Romaine as a true modern woman, and a woman ahead of her time.

“Aunt Romaine is always giving and thoughtful,” says Hess. “She always thinks of others, and she is thrifty. She knew how to manage so that she could do some of the things she wanted to do.”

One of those things was to buy her own car in 1933. She was just 22 in a time when many young women didn’t drive at all, let alone buy their own cars. That car was a 1933 Dodge Coupe with a rumble seat. She paid $785 for it and named it Dinah. Over the years, she bought many other cars, giving each one a name, like Fanny for another. Her last car was a Chrysler LeBaron Sport Model that she bought when she was 88.

“I finally gave up driving when I was 100,” says Davidson. “The state sent me some kind of notice about testing for older drivers. I knew they were going to give me a hard time. Besides, who else was driving at 100?”

Who else indeed? Sam Hess, who is Thelma Hess’s husband, took his aunt car shopping when she was 93. The LeBaron was starting to show its age, while his aunt was not.

“Can you imagine the reaction we got from the car salesmen when we told them she wanted to take a car out for a test drive? It was pretty funny,” recalls Hess.

Davidson has always been strong and independent. She married later in life, to Paul E. Davidson of Lititz, when she was 50. It was a happy marriage for the couple, who lived at 211 Noble St.

Sam Hess played matchmaker in their romance. Hess had known Paul Davidson and his wife Dorothy. After Dorothy passed away, Davidson seemed lost and lonely. His son Tedford Davidson was grown, with a family of his own. After some time went by, Hess gently suggested that he knew a lovely woman that he might want to meet. At first Davidson wasn’t ready. Then one day he approached Hess.

“He asked me who I meant. And I told him she was my wife’s aunt,” says Hess.

The rest was history. The two married in 1961. That opened up a whole new world for Romaine and Paul Davidson. Both loved to travel, and in their 32 years together, they traveled all over Europe, the Caribbean and the South Seas. They went to Hawaii, Alaska, England, Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Bermuda and Morocco. A Moroccan man flirted with Davidson until she told him she was married.

(Left to right) Mike and Sue Sherwin of England, Carol Bell of Bermuda, Thelma and Sam Hess, Eric Bell of Bermuda, and Romaine (sitting in front).

(Left to right) Mike and Sue Sherwin of England, Carol Bell of Bermuda, Thelma and Sam Hess, Eric Bell of Bermuda, and Romaine (sitting in front).

In England, they became good friends with Mike and Sue Sherwin. In Bermuda, their good friends were Eric and Carol Bell. Both couples came to Lititz on Sunday to celebrate Davidson’s 105th birthday.

Romaine Davidson continued to live in the home they shared after her husband died in 1993. She stayed there until she was 100. For many years, she flatly refused to move to a retirement home. Then one day she told Sam Hess that she was ready to move to Moravian Manor.

“I didn’t want to cook anymore,” she says. “And I was tired of living alone at 100.”

Davidson did get meals at home through Meals on Wheels for a time. She had volunteered for the organization for many years, serving meals to people who were younger than she was. While cooking wasn’t her thing, she is an expert seamstress, and could knit, crochet, embroider, design and sew clothing and do alterations. She and another woman made all the alter covers, the crismons for Christmas time, and the covers for the hand bell tables for Hempfield United Methodist Church. She also made a niece’s wedding gown.

“I designed a summer uniform when I worked for the VNA,” says Davidson. “The other uniforms had stiff, starched collars and cuffs. They were too hot.”

The Visiting Nurses Association was her second job, starting in 1932, and she did office work, bookkeeping, answered phones, did mail and parked cars for employees. Before that, in 1928, she worked for the Godell Laboratory in Lancaster. From 1944 to 1973, she worked for RCA in the power tube division in production control, retiring after 29 years.

She also enjoys music. She was Sunday school pianist at her church, and was in the church choir and other music activities.

Her parents were John Henry and Mary Agnes Horn Stively, and she had just one brother, Nelson Eugene Stively, who was Thelma Hess’s father. As children back in 1925, they would listen to the radio her brother made and contact Davenport, Iowa’s WLW and Pittsburgh, Pa.’ KDKA radio stations.

Nearly 50 members of her extended family joined the celebration at the Sutter, as Davidson gave each one a hug and beamed with pleasure.

“I still get around pretty well for 105. I only started using a walker a year or two ago,” she says. “I had a hip replacement for one hip at 89 and the other at 93. My hips wore out before I did.”

Laura Knowles is a local freelance writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story ideas at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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