Dottie Kirk's 100th Birthday

Happy 100th Birthday Dottie Kirk

August 11, 2022

The word feisty may be somewhat overused, especially when it comes to describing active seniors. But in the case of Dottie Kirk, who celebrated her 100th birthday at McLean on July 13th, that may be the understatement of the — well — century.

While getting ready to celebrate, Dottie, along with her son, David and daughter Suzanne, were kind enough to drop in on us to talk about life at McLean, as well as what it feels like to hit the milestone of 100 years, a number Dottie is surprisingly ambivalent about. “Today feels no different than yesterday,” Dottie says. “I don’t know if there’s anything special about it. I just take it one day at a time and try to stay out of trouble.”

Given her life of service to others, trouble doesn’t sound like something Dottie has to worry about. She was born in New Bedford, MA on July 13, 1922, to Eldon Mills, a Quaker Minister, and his wife Florence, known for being an excellent piano player. “Music is very important in our family,” says Dottie. “My mother played the piano and my father sang — a lot. I think it surprised people. ‘What’s that minister doing, singing?’ But he enjoyed it.”

The family moved to West Hartford, but also owned a home at Horseneck Beach, near Westport MA, which Dottie fondly remembers. “My father, who was from Indiana,” says Dottie, “fell in love with the beach at Horseneck, so he bought a house there that we only used a couple of weeks, every year. But it was so nice to be on the shore and on the water.”

Dottie followed in her father’s footsteps by attending Earlham College, in Richmond, IN, where she met her future husband, E. Laurance Kirk. “He was from Philadelphia,” says Dottie, “and he was from a Quaker background, too. It was just very easy.”

“Mom’s parents went to Earlham College, too, “ adds David. “That’s where they met. I also went to Earlham. I think I was the fourth generation to go there.” Suzanne opted out of family tradition saying, “I grew up saying I’d never go to Earlham College.”

After college, Dottie taught for a short period of time, giving that up when she married E. Laurance, preferring to spend her time raising their children. Dottie’s husband, who was a chemist for Gulf Oil, moved his young family to suburban Philadelphia, his hometown. When Gulf opened a research center in Pittsburgh, the family relocated there.

It was a nice life filled with tennis, biking, and bowling. And music — there was always music. As time went on and the kids left home, Dottie and her husband decided to make a move. They looked at places in Florida and Tennessee, finally choosing to build a home off I-95 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, moving there around 1988. “I didn’t want to move to Florida,” says Dottie. “It’s fine for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.”

“The real clincher for where they ended up,” says Suzanne, “is it’s midway between Florida and Pittsburgh. They knew friends would stop and see them on the way down to Florida and the way back.”

But retirement didn’t slow the couple down. “Mom and Dad volunteered at the Orangeburg Hospital,” says David. “Every Monday, they’d go over and work for the day.” Dottie adds, “I said, ‘can I just go around and talk to everybody?’ And so I did.”

“Dot kind of wrote the job description,” says Suzanne, continuing the train of thought, “by walking in and asking patients, ‘Is everything working? Is your call button working? How’s the temperature?’ People would say ‘No, this isn’t working,’ So mom would go back and tell someone, who’d then write it up. She became this sort of front-end maintenance person.”

Eight years ago, now widowed, Dottie made the move back north to McLean. By this time, Suzanne was living in San Francisco and David was living in Simsbury. Wanting to be in the north and near family, mother, son and daughter scouted locations in and around Hartford.

“The three of us looked for the right fit,” says David. “McLean was smaller than a lot of other places in the Hartford area. It just felt like more of a community.”

“I found that everybody was very friendly right from the start,” says Dottie. “There was no one walking around with glum looks on their faces and you didn’t feel lost here.”

“I think one of the selling points for Mom coming to McLean,” says Suzanne, “was the availability of the right apartment. The fact it’s on the second story, looking out onto the golf course, with a beautiful view.” Dottie agrees, saying, “It’s such a nice area that you can just go out and take a walk anywhere you like.”

Once settled at McLean, Dottie lost no time getting out and socializing. She even volunteered at the McLean Auxiliary Gift Shop. “It’s so natural that she doesn’t even think about it,” says David. “There are a couple of people who reached out to her when she moved in. ‘Come down to dinner with us,’ things like that. I always say about McLean, the people here are interesting and intelligent. You can always have a good conversation about pretty much anything.”

Dottie being Dottie, her presence at McLean was felt almost immediately. During her eight years as a resident of the community, she’s become something of a one-woman welcome wagon. “I just go up and start yakking right away,” laughs Dottie. “We become friends, no problem.” Dottie’s also known for her love of jigsaw puzzles, and even more as a champion at the game of Mölkky (a Finnish game that’s kind of a cross between bowling and croquet). “What I like about the game,” says David, “is that Mom wins. And when she does, she gets a prize which is usually cookies, which I get to eat when I come here.”

One advantage of living at McLean is the new Goodrich building with its beautiful 180-seat performing arts center and state-of-the-art fitness and wellness center. According to Dottie, another benefit of moving to McLean was the staff. “They’re all very friendly,” she says.

David agrees, adding, “The head of the dining room, Sophia, really does look after my mother. Sometimes she’ll come over, knock on the door and say, ‘Hey! We’re having a taco special,’ and get her to come down. That’s very nice. It’s also nice that the waitstaff here all tend to be from around the area.” Dottie concurs, adding, “They’ll sure let you know what’s going on in the world.” David continues the thought adding, “My mother has always had an excellent sense of humor. She’s also very smart and can go down to dinner, sit with people she doesn’t really know and have a good conversation. If you can make friends, have family around and not be socially isolated, which you aren’t at McLean, you can live a very nice long life. I appreciate McLean a lot, particularly because I get to come over here and eat.”

So just how does one celebrate one’s one 100th birthday? “We have family coming in tonight,” says Suzanne. “Tomorrow Dot’s sister (who’s a mere 95) is joining us. We’re having a party.” Suzanne thinks a moment before adding, “McLean is also hosting a party. It’s going to be over in The Goodrich. Dottie’s actually on this week’s calendar as an event.”

We hope Dottie will forgive those of us who believe that celebrating her centennial is, indeed, a very special event. And the icing on the cake Dottie didn’t know was coming (before we accidentally let the cat out of the bag) is just how special the day was for everyone who knows and loves her, most of all, David and Suzanne.

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