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Woman celebrates 100 years

Grace Van Eaton wears a badge announcing her 100th birthday during family party. Submitted photo
Grace Van Eaton wears a badge announcing her 100th birthday during family party. Submitted photo
Grace Van Eaton aged to triple digits on Monday. She turned down a stripper and a party, opting to celebrate her 100 birthday with close family at a quiet breakfast, where they shared memories of a past filled with fond moments and large family gatherings. 

Marlene Clark, one of her granddaughters, got her a stripper for her 70th birthday and Van Eaton was thankful that the past did not repeat itself.

“I wouldn’t know what to do with him at this age,” Van Eaton laughs. 

Born on a farm in North Dakota, she spent the first 13 years of her life without running water or electricity. Van Eaton was the third in line of nine siblings. She moved to Montana with her family before she left them, for love.

She married Elvin Van Eaton in Webo, Mont., at age 17, and she followed the love of her life across the northwest, to finally land in Brookings in 1965.

“I was following (Elvin),” Van Eaton said about her many moves. “He was a heavy equipment operator and worked in construction.”

The couple had two children, although they lost their son when he was three. Their daughter Joyce was born in 1934 and she had five “beautiful” daughters that Van Eaton still sees on a regular basis.

“(Joyce) had all girls and I thought ‘Thank God for that, I get to enjoy them,’” said Van Eaton. 

Van Eaton became a seamstress throughout the years because of her large family and she enjoyed making clothes for the children when they were younger.

“This was always a big thing at Christmas time when we were little. She would always sew us our pajamas,” Clark said. “As little kids, that would be the one gift. She would have them all done up, some were matching and some weren’t, but they were all pressed and we would always get to put them on and go home in those freshly made pajamas.” 

Van Eaton has outlived all nine siblings, her husband and children, but she knows that her family supports her during these later years of her life. Van Eaton has five granddaughters, 11 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren, and she is grateful to have the support from her family.

“We are a very close family. We all get along great,” Clark said. “We love our grandmother to pieces and wonder how she can tolerate us sometimes.”

She still lives in the house she bought with her husband when they arrived in Brookings. The house was just being built and the Van Eaton clan is still the only family to live inside the walls.

Family reunions have filled the house on occasion. The family - granddaughters, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren - came together the last time for Joyce’s funeral in September 2011, filling the house and yard with love, tears and tents. 

“I don’t know what I would do without you girls and boys,” Van Eaton told her family.

One of the hardest changes for Van Eaton throughout the years has been technology. She was born without electricity and now has to figure out how to surf the Internet, which can be overwhelming. She has a cell phone for emergency purposes, but rarely uses it. 

“I know how to call the girls on it and that’s about it,” Van Eaton said. “Children are growing up in a whole different world than it was with me. It amazes me, I can’t imagine it. We did have a telephone, but it was on a party line and everybody could hear when you talked to somebody.”

Van Eaton still gets her hair done weekly, goes shopping and out to dinner occasionally. Beyond that, she is not as active as she used to be. Although her extended family lives outside of the Brookings area, her granddaughters visit often and call Van Eaton daily. According to Clark, this caring nature comes from Van Eaton and how she raised her family. 

“It was just passed down, to always be nice to people and love one another,” Clark said. “I think that it starts at the top and flows down.”

According to Van Eaton, turning 100 “feels old” and she is grateful for the quiet time with her family for this celebration … sans stripper. 

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