100-year-old’s birthday a ‘moving’ experience

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Turning 100 is a milestone most of us will never reach, so when Claremont resident Arlene Warhurst was approaching her big day, her family wanted to throw a party to remember.

“We had originally planned a big party with a 12-piece swing band,” Ms. Warhurst’s daughter Janine Slucter said. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down all gatherings in California and much of the United States.

So, Ms. Slucter and her siblings cooked up an alternative. They would wheel mom onto the front lawn of her Silver Tree Road home of 53 years and have the party come to her. Starting at 2:30 p.m. last Thursday, friends, family and even strangers drove by in their cars honking and wishing Ms. Warhurst salutations.

Ms. Slucter contacted the COURIER a few weeks ago asking the paper to publish a short invite to make the public aware of the drive-by shindig. As a result, former neighbors and friends she had not seen in years stopped by to say hello.

When the day arrived Ms. Slucter and her extended family decorated the yard with balloons and signs that read “Happy 100th Birthday” and “Congratulations Queen Arlene.”

Wearing a crown and a sash that read “100 & Fabulous,” Ms. Warhurst sat under a shade shelter greeting friends and making new acquaintances. Some people carried homemade signs, while others brought balloons, flowers and cards.

The celebration included many of her 60 direct descendants, including six of her nine children who drove into town from San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Crestline for the party. Ms. Slucter is the only one of Ms. Warhurst’s children still living in Claremont.

The rolling party went on for three hours and included a parade of city maintenance workers and police cruisers with lights blazing and sirens blaring.

Her three-year-old great-granddaughter Natalie Taylor, held a very long balloon that her mother, Amy Taylor, had given her with the instructions not to get any closer to her great grandmother than the end of the balloon.

“Old neighbors she hadn’t seen in years came by to wish her a happy birthday. It was like the community pulling together just to have a joyful event. I was close to tears the whole time,” Ms. Slucter said. “Thanks to the COURIER and Bevin Handel from the city, my mom had a spectacular birthday.”

“It was the best party I have ever had,” Ms. Warhurst told her family.

Ms. Warhurst was born in a small town in North Dakota not far from the Canadian border. Her family moved around some when she was a child because her father, who sold vacuum cleaners, was having trouble finding work during the Great Depression. They eventually landed in Southern California where she met her future husband, Don Warhurst, when they were both sophomores at Santa Ana High School.

Right after graduation the couple eloped, getting married in Las Vegas before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area where Mr. Warhurst attended University California Berkeley on a football scholarship. Ms. Warhurst was a student at Stanford, however, she eventually dropped out when she became pregnant.

In 1950 Ms. Warhurst was a contestant on the game show “Queen for a Day.” During the show, five women each pitched her story of adversity and requested one item she needed, but could not afford, to ease her burden. The contestant deemed most deserving would get her wish. Ms. Warhurst won with a tale of her ever-growing family and her desperate need for a double stroller for her twin girls. From that day forward she was know as “Queen Arlene.”

The family moved to Claremont in 1957 when Mr. Warhurst took a job at Cal Poly Pomona as a football coach and math professor. Later he became the school’s athletic director when Cal Poly dropped its football program. The couple had been married for 63 years at the time of his death in 2001.

On the first day of school 60 years ago, family friend and COURIER publisher Martin Weinberger snapped a photo of Ms Warhurst and her many children that ran in the paper. It must have been well received, because Mr. Weinberger came back the next year for an updated shot.

Ms. Warhurst is a gifted portrait artist who drew numerous pictures of her children, mostly as they slept, because that was the only time they sat still. Ms. Slucter describes her mother as “brilliant” and a free spirit who can speak five languages. She can also be extremely giving.

After the end of the Vietnam War with the mass migration of Vietnamese citizens to the United States she and Mr. Warhurst took in a family of seven providing them with food and shelter for two years. During that time she learned to speak Vietnamese.

“She is kind of quirky genius and an amazing lady. I have a lot of affection for her,” Ms. Slucter said. “As you get older you reflect on life, and she did all she could with nine children on a professor’s salary.”

After everyone had cleaned up the yard, immediate family went inside for birthday cake. As she blew out the candles, her family asked Ms. Warhurst, who has some dementia, what she wished for.

She said, “I wish that the war would be over.” Ms. Slucter guesses that response was triggered by an old memory of when her husband was in the Navy during World War II. But it is also apropos to the circumstances that cancelled her big celebration including all of the guests and the swing band.

Happy birthday Arlene Warhurst, we all wish the war was over.


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