Visalia centenarian Marie Kuchenbecker turns 104

Marie Kuchenbecker, who was born and raised in Visalia, celebrates her 104th birthday this month

VISALIA – In 1919, Marie Kuchenbecker entered into the world, now 104 years later, she is celebrating her birthday in the very same city she was born in.

After over a century of life, it would seem as if Kuchenbecker has a secret to her longevity. At the dawn of turning 104, she’s still “walking around like she’s a 20-year-old,” according to Prestige Assisted Living employee Robin Thompson. However, Kuchenbecker said there are no secrets to a long life, and if there are, it is beyond her. With a sweet smile, she simply recalled her life as being “wonderful,” and still radiates with a joy that she has carried with her throughout her 104 years.

“My whole life was wonderful,” Kuchenbecker said. “I made sure that I always tried to be capable of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to waste any time.”

Kuchenbecker was born in Visalia, Calif. just a year before the roaring 20’s. As a teenager, Kuchenbecker attended Redwood High School, which was built just nine years before she was born. In her 1936 yearbook, she was described as “reserved” and “meek.” Not too long after she graduated from Redwood, she began working for the County’s courthouse as a stenographer. She worked transcribing words in real time time on a steno machine.  When stenographer’s type out records, it is written in shorthand, a special theory based on syllables rather than letter by letter. Kuchenbecker worked with the courthouse for many years, until she began working with her church.

Kuchenbecker was heavily involved in the First Christian Church, where she and her family went for many years. It was there that she found much of her joy and hope. Later on, she ended up working at the church in the business department, keeping their books. In her eyes, keeping the church going is so important.

“What made [life] so much easier was the fact that my folks were so interested in the church,” Kuchenbecker said. “The reason I bring the church up is because they helped raise me. They had put me on the right track.”

She is the longest living member in her family line, and said that the oldest in her family before her was around 96 years old. Kuchenbecker said she had always considered her late 90’s to be “her deadline.” But when she eventually turned 96, she realized it was “just the beginning.” Thompson said that one of her motivators in life is not only her love for God, but also her two daughters and grandchildren, who visit her often.

“She plays bingo five days a week. She runs around here like she’s a 20-year-old with her walker, and she’s extremely happy. Just so positive about everything. It makes it so lovely for us to spend time with [her],” Thompson said.

Kuchenbecker has seen the world change drastically over the last 100 years. One of the positives of this change is how educated people have become, and that they are able to work jobs that are not as strenuous as before, Kuchenbecker said. Nowadays, however, Kuchenbecker said that it is a lot harder for this generation than when she was their age. There are so many different avenues in life that a person can take now, that kids can be “handicapped” with all of their options.

Kuchenbecker was honored by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in October for being one out of 21 centenarians to live within the County. She was honored alongside Antonia Alcala, Raquel Alcala, Mae Ewert, Bonnie Jensen, Lora Lorene Porter, Lois Wright, Francisca Degracia, Enrique Zambrano, Mary Leal, Felipe Ibarra, Erika Fraga, Mildred “Mille” Sullivan, Betty Treaster, Juanita Gutierrez, Geraldine “Jerry” Soults, Astrid “OZ” Wagenshutz, Evangelina Diaz, Elvera Avila, Anita Soleno and Donna Gray.

“Our centenarians represent a special group of older residents who have lived long and strong over 10 decades, weaving strong history and culture into the basic fabric of life as we know it today,” chairman Eddi Valero said.

Kuchenbecker celebrated her birthday on Jan. 21, surrounded by family and friends.

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