Local woman celebrates 101st birthday during pandemic

Life as a 100-year-old was going good for Mildred Carter.

A birthday celebration was arranged by her children last fall at Chateau de Pique Winery in Seymour.

Throughout the past year, she enjoyed visits by family and friends at Lutheran Community Home in Seymour, where she lives now.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, however, life changed for Carter and other residents. For the safety of residents and staff, no visitors were allowed.

Having to stay in her room and not being able to see family and friends was tough.

“It was too much,” Carter said.

She had a phone to call her loved ones, but it didn’t always work for her. They could stop by outside the windows of the facility, but it just wasn’t the same as being face to face.

On Thursday, the facility started allowing outdoor visits for 20 minutes, but visitors had to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and have no contact.

The timing was perfect for Carter because Thursday was her 101st birthday. Friends Olga Otte and Laberta Otte brought her two vases of colorful flowers and a handful of birthday cards from people at their church, St. Paul Lutheran Borchers.

“I do enjoy the flowers, some livelihood,” Carter said. “It’s nice.”

For Carter and the Ottes, it was good to see each other in person again, even if it was just for a little bit.

“I’m just glad that it’s open now that we can at least come and see you,” Olga said to Carter.

“Yeah, this is a big treat now,” Laberta added.

During the visit, Carter and the Ottes got to reflect on some of the highlights of Carter’s life, including her involvement with Girl Scouts.

She received several awards for her service within the Girl Scout organization and for 10 years in the Savannah Council of the Girl Scouts of America as troop camping chairwoman and troop leader.

“I can’t imagine taking all of these girls out for camping and getting to do all of that kind of stuff,” Olga said to Carter.

“I enjoyed that,” Carter said.

They also talked about Carter being raised on a farm in Cortland and noted she would have been very young during the time of another pandemic, the Spanish flu, which went from 1918 to 1920.

Carter went to elementary school in Waymansville and later graduated from Cortland High School in 1938.

She then took a secretarial job at the county agent’s office in Columbus before moving to Indianapolis and becoming a secretary at the Indiana Statehouse.

She met her future husband, Gail Rex Carter, at a church function in Indianapolis when they were in their early teens. It wasn’t until Mildred moved to Indianapolis for work that the relationship turned romantic.

“Rex’s mother and I had planned a trip to New York City to go see him, and he and I still wanted to get married,” she said. “She backed out of the trip, but I went anyway, and so we eloped. We were married at Fordham Lutheran Church in the Bronx by Pastor Louis Meyer on April 9, 1942.”

After Rex enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, they had to move often. They lived throughout the southern part of the United States as Rex served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and until he retired in 1966 as a pilot in the Strategic Air Command.

For the next 20 years, they lived in Columbus, Ohio, where Rex flew for Executive Jet Aviation. In 1986, they moved back to Indiana.

After Rex died in 2005, Mildred moved into a house by herself for three or four years before going somewhere else for physical rehabilitation.

“I’ve had a good life, a fun life,” she said.

While last year’s birthday celebration was a lot more fun for Mildred because she got to be with family and friends, she was pleasantly surprised by the Ottes visiting Thursday.

At the end of their visit, the Ottes sang “Happy Birthday” to Mildred. Since they couldn’t hug each other, they did the next best thing that has become common during the pandemic — an air hug.

Mildred also shared the secret to living a good, long life.

“Just be good to yourself, work on yourself,” she said. “When you get that fixed the way it’s supposed to be, then you start looking for improvements.”