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Life is too short…but not for this lady

Genevieve Cannon had a party last Thursday, September 1 celebrating a landmark few people dream of reaching. The birthday girl, who is quite possibly Claremont’s oldest resident, turned 107.

See video from Genevieve’s party

Genevieve Cannon had a party last Thursday, September 1 celebrating a landmark few people dream of reaching. The birthday girl, who is quite possibly Claremont’s oldest resident, turned 107.

Her family and friends, among them staff and fellow residents at the Pilgrim Place Health Center, joined the centenarian for a party featuring cake, a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” and more than a little awe at the guest of honor’s longevity.

The secret of her resilience?  “She’s feisty,” says her daughter Diana Turnham.

That feistiness has carried Mrs. Cannon through an eventful life, beginning with her birth on September 1, 1909 in Blackwell, Oklahoma.

The centenarian is still mobile, using her feet to help navigate her wheelchair through the halls of the health center, and still exhibits a sharp memory most days. She is hard of hearing, however, and was tired by the end of her party, particularly given the residence had hosted a luau the evening before.

As a result, it was her daughter who related her life story. When Genevieve was 16, her family moved to California where she graduated from Alhambra High School. She soon met and married Joe Cannon, a plumber who notably once worked on the set of “Gone with the Wind.”

They went on to raise a family in the home that Mrs. Cannon’s father had built with his own hands and given to the couple as a wedding present. They welcomed three children over the years, Diana and Robert—who lives in Oregon—and Kathy, who died at 50.

They also welcomed quite a few changes, including the advent of television. Mrs. Cannon was in her 40s when she acquired her first set. “The screen was about this big,” Ms. Turham said, indicating a span of less 10 inches. “I remember being scared by jungle movies,” she recalled. “The footage of lions and stuff gave me nightmares.”

Mrs. Cannon was a dedicated housewife, throwing herself into her children’s activities such as Girl Scouts. A woman of considerable faith, she loyally attended the First Christian Church of Alhambra. She also always found time for charity work.

“She’s kind of the queen bee of the family. She’s always been a goer,” Ms. Turnham said.

Mrs. Cannon also made miracles in the kitchen. “She was a good cook. She made the best lemon pies of anybody,” Ms. Turnan noted.

Mr. Canon died at age 72, after 48 years of marriage. Genevieve lived on her own at a senior apartment for many years before health issues precipitated a move to the Pilgrim Place Health Center 10 years ago.

Her great-grandson Chandler Azling, 23, and her great-granddaughter Landon Azling, 19, were among party attendees. Chandler, a graduate of Berkeley preparing for a stint teaching English in Japan, said it’s wonderful that Genevieve has lived so long.  “It’s surprising but it’s also not at the same time,” he said.

There was an atmosphere of levity at the party, for which Ms. Cannon had been outfitted with a tiara. Gifts included bouquets of roses and orchids and her cake also featured smiling flowers in bloom. Guests at the soiree also included Ms. Turnham’s husband John and Ms. Cannon’s granddaughters Carla Cannon-Azling and Krista Donham. Janis Weinberger, mother of COURIER publisher Peter Weinberger, was another attendee.  

Carla Cannon Azling, who jokingly insists she has always been Genevieve’s favorite grandchild. One of Ms. Azling’s favorite anecdotes about her grandmother involves a light moment at a tough time. At age 99, Mrs. Cannon suffered a stroke and a nasty fall. She was in the hospital and had lost much of her ability to talk. Nonetheless, when Ms. Azling’s husband—by all accounts a handsome man—came to see her at the hospital, she was adamant about putting on her lipstick.

Ms. Turnham said it would be fair to say that her mother, who wore a glittery lavender jacket and matching beads for the occasion, has a touch of vanity. “She’s a clothes horse. She’s was always dressed properly for church. She always wore hats.”

The family thought the stroke was the beginning of the end for Genevieve. When Ms. Turnham planned an event commemorating her mom’s 100th birthday at the Sycamore Inn in Upland, she admits she figured she was planning both a party and a wake.

Year after year, Mrs. Cannon has beaten the odds. She has grown more frail, and prefers staying at home to going out for family occasions. She has perfect eyesight, though, and appreciates many of the same things she once did. She is still religious today about making it to weekly services and Bible study sessions offered by Pilgrim Place. And she still gets cranky without her morning coffee.

Despite that one vice, her daughter believes Genevieve’s lifestyle has kept her healthy. “She’s lived clean and she’s lived well,” Ms. Turnham said. “It’s very good. We’re very fortunate to be here.”

 “We love her. We’re glad she’s still around,” Ms. Donham agreed.

And, Ms. Cannon-Azling added, it’s quite possible that Ms. Cannon is more surprised than anyone that she’s still around.

  “It’s ironic. She is a hypochondriac, but she lived to be 107,” she said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com 

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