WEST JEFFERSON-Vera Coykendall was born into a world where the Titanic had yet to sink and the outbreak of the First World War was still years in the future.
She went on to survive the Great Depression, witness the end of World War 2, travel the world and raise a family.
This week she’ll turn 104-years old at Forest Ridge Assisted Living in West Jefferson.
“I’d say under the circumstances she’s had a lovely life, one she’s lived to the fullest,” Beth Jones, Coykendall’s daughter sad. “She’s always said, ‘Everything in moderation, and you should always be positive.’ I think that’s part of the reason she’s done as well as she has.”
A native of upstate New York, Coykendall’s childhood was both happy and filled with tragedy, Jones said.
Though she was her parents’ fourth child, she never really knew her older siblings, Jones said. All three died after eating soup tainted by wild mushrooms.
“I think in ways her mother may have pushed her away when she was very little,” Jones said. “Why get close to someone who might be taken from you, I believe was her thinking. But they grew so close later on.”
Coykendall remembers the raising of the flag in 1918 at the close of World War 1, and hates onions and their smell to this day, Jones said, due to the pungent poultices that became a popular treatment during the flu pandemic that first rocked the world that same year.
And her father died, the result of a botched barbershop tonsillectomy, when Coykendall was just 16. That forced her into a leadership role as she helped her mother raise her younger brother and sisters, Jones said.
But the Depression may have had the most impact on the self-sufficient Coykendall, Jones said.
“She’ll often say that hard times like the Depression bring people together,” Jones said. “And people coming together is never a bad thing.”
Coykendall married a military engineer and served with the American Red Cross during the Second World War.
And she later moved to Florida after her husband contracted tuberculosis. There she raised two children, Beth and Joel, became a lover of bridge and invested in coastal property at the very beginning of Florida’s real estate development boom, Jones said.
She came to the High Country nearly a decade ago from Florida to be near Jones. She lived at Appalachian Brian Estates and Deerfield Ridge in Boone prior to coming to West Jefferson.
Jones said her mother’s faith played a large part in the woman she became. That’s a story that began with Coykendall’s mother, who left her Catholic faith behind after falling in love with a protestant man.
“Her mother was essentially booted from the Catholic church over that marriage,” Jones said. “And my mother knew that and she always attended an Episcopal church.”
But Coykendall, well into her 80s at the time, returned to the Catholic fold and regularly attended Saint Elizabeth of the Hill Country while living in Boone.
And only in recent years has the fiercely independent Coykendall been convinced that she’s lost – just a step – here or there, Jones said. She relinquished her driving privileges at the age of 95, Jones said, and broke her hip in a fall several years ago but has largely returned to excellent health.
That’s largely due to Coykendall’s remarkable ability to bounce back, Jones said, but also due to the care Coykendall has received while living in the High Country.
“I think she takes after her grandmother,” Jones said. “Her French Canadian grandmother lived to be 103, so mom did well to take after her. She’s always said the key to a long life is ‘everything in moderation.’ She’s always preached that.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-846-7164 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr