In 1908 while Taft took over the White House from Roosevelt, Arvilla Merchant of Longbranch was born in Kapowsin. She grew up in Orting and moved to the Key Peninsula in 1973. She recently moved to a retirement home.
Her birthday was celebrated Feb. 4 in the activity room of her retirement home with other residents and eight friends from her church. A birthday cake was made for all of the residents who were celebrating a birthday, with a special one on top for Merchant, who became a little teary as Happy Birthday was sung. Merchant received a duffle bag of gifts from the Seattle Mariners, who happen to be her favorite team. Her eyes sparkled as she was presented with each item including two bobble heads, an autographed baseball by Dan Wilson and a card signed by all the players. This is something that is given to every person in the area who turns 100, but Merchant missed out last year.
Some of her friend from Tacoma took Merchant to visit with her former sewing group, which gathers once a month in Longbranch.
Merchant is mostly blind but can see faces and objects. She has one son and one grandson with four step great-grandchildren and had a grandfather who was in the Civil War. She has two brothers and two sisters who are all deceased.
As a child Merchant said she took the train from Orting to school in Tacoma then rode a streetcar to attend Lincoln High School in Tacoma. Riding a train was a special treat and Arvilla says “one of my biggest thrills at the time was to ride the Great Northern train to Tacoma then take a bus to school.”
In 1927 she and her friends would often go to Lake Patterson to listen and dance to the music of the big bands. It was there she met her husband and three years later they were married. He died in 1955. During their marriage, she said they would often take the ferry from Steilacoom to Longbranch to watch a cousin play baseball. It was also then that Merchant went to work as a bookkeeper in Tacoma for American Plywood Association, where she retired in 1973 and moved to the Peninsula. Her son built a one-room cabin and through the years it has grown to a full size house one room at a time.
Merchant said “heaven only knows” what she owes her longevity to, then paused and said “it could be that during my last 10 years of working I walked one mile each way to work every day.” She added, “I’ve slowed down a bit from100.”
Arvilla has had many hobbies and used to knit, tat, and crochet. She said she also square danced for 15 years. The biggest highlight of her life, she said, was when her son, Richard, was stationed in New London, Connecticut, and took her aboard the first nuclear attack submarine for a one day ride that few people have ever had the privilege of doing.
Merchant has been through the Panama Canal, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska and most of the United States. While living in Longbranch she did her own cooking and laundry while listening to audio books. Her son, David, and neighbors now attend the house that he and his mother built so many years ago.
Merchant was one of the first eight ladies who started the Angel Guild 30 years ago in a run down shack in Home which has since grown, expanded and moved to the current location in the K.C. Corral in Key Center. She was involved in many community clubs and retired from the Angel Guild with an honorary membership in 1985. Merchant continues to enjoy life, doing what she can for herself and takes it “one day at a time.”