By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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107-year-old still teaches others

Photo by Joseph Garcia/Ventura County Star: Mildred "Bitsy" Thompson is interviewed by friend Suz Montgomery for Montgomery's cable access show "Schmooze with Suz."

She inspires center's staff and residents

Monday, January 21, 2008 Ventura County Star

At 107 years old, Bitsy Thompson believes she knows the secret to living a long, happy, fulfilled life.

"Give to the world the best that you have, and the best will come back to you," Thompson said.

Born Dec. 27, 1900, the Ventura senior recently celebrated her birthday at the Venturan Convalescent Center, where she inspires folks of all ages with her zest for life, said Suz Montgomery, an adult education instructor with the Ventura Unified School District who teaches five days a week at the center.

"She is probably the oldest living person in Ventura County and she is my most actively engaged student," said Montgomery, who teaches seniors how to retain and regain memory. "Her retention is unbelievable. I know people who are in their 80s who don't have the retention that Bitsy has."

Last living child of 5 siblings

Born and raised on a farm in Jamesport, Mo., Mildred "Bitsy" Thompson is the last living child in a family of five siblings.

She remembers the first cars, traveling everywhere by horse, the early days of radio, and when newspapers were the main source of news and William McKinley was president. Her home was lit by kerosene lamps.

The first time Thompson saw an airplane, she was riding her horse.

"It was so unreal," she recalled. "I didn't know what it was, but I didn't want any part of it. It was an old noisy thing that scared all the horses."

The invention of television, however, was a different story. "It was magic."

Though she outlived her husband and son, Thompson keeps moving forward with a smile on her face.

"When she talks about them, there's no regret, no sadness," Montgomery said.

One of her favorite memories was teaching in Puerto Rico in 1917. She was recruited from her school — Stephens Teachers College — to be one of 10 young women who taught the local population how to speak English. At the time, Puerto Rico was considering statehood in the United States.

"The people there were so wonderful and so nice — I loved teaching," said Thompson, who continues to fuel her passion at the Venturan Convalescent Center, where she assists Montgomery in the classroom.

Her 'spirit is eternal'

"Her razor-sharp memory and daily participation in my class makes her completely unique," Montgomery said.

Thompson's passion for teaching is apparent at the center, where she exemplifies life lessons simply with her presence, said Michael Bogdanoff, a speech and language pathologist at the Venturan who has known Thompson for about four years.

"She is young at heart, has a great sense of humor and is amazingly humble," said Bogdanoff. "She is a great reminder of what is truly important in this lifetime: friends, family and serving others. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a small part of her life. Bitsy's spirit is eternal and will outlast all of us."

Thompson is an inspiration because she always looks at life as an adventure, said Venturan Executive Director Brett Watson, who met Thompson in 2003, when she was admitted.

"She has lived an abundant life, full of hope and happiness, which is unique considering she has outlived her family and friends," said Watson. "This does not depress her or frustrate her; she makes new friends and enjoys life right along with them."

Her positive demeanor is contagious, Watson added.

"She continues to smile with the aches and pains of a 107-year-old body, rarely complaining much more than, I need a nap to rest these old bones,'" he said. "She loves life, people and her memories."

Griselda Arguelles, activity director at the Venturan, said Thompson makes her look forward to her senior years.

"She is one who sees the glass as half full rather than half empty," said the 27-year-old. "Bitsy takes life for what it is, and motivates people to stay active. She taught me that life is what you make it."

For Thompson, that includes flirtation, said Neal Andrews, a Ventura city councilman.

"She is a terrible flirt," Andrews said. "She won my heart three years ago strewing her charms about, and she has been my sweetheart ever since. She loves life and having fun."

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