At 99, Reathel remembers it all

“The times they are a-changin’,” Bob Dylan sang.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, August 5, 2008 1:16pm
  • Life
Longtime Kent resident Reathel Norberg

Longtime Kent resident Reathel Norberg

Longtime Kent resident looks back

“The times they are a-changin’,” Bob Dylan sang.

Longtime Kent resident Reathel Norberg agrees, and she’s seen more of the times than most. She once lived in a Kent of only about 500 people, heated her home with a coal stove and bought a half-finished house on three-fourths of an acre for only $1,100.

Norberg turned 99 Friday, celebrating almost a century of living in the ever-changing times. She and her 96-year-old husband, Bert, who have been married almost 74 years, remember it all.

“It’s been a big change,” she said. “The sad part about it is that most of the people we knew are gone.”

Born in Kent in 1909, she was the second of five children to a seamstress mother and a railroad-worker father. Her family had moved to the area in 1901 from Oklahoma, which was still Indian Territory at the time. Norberg remembers her older siblings telling stories of the 46th state, which was formed in 1907.

“My brother was so proud of the fact that he wasn’t born in the actual U.S.,” she said. “He thought it made him very unique.”

Norberg grew up in Kent, attending the only high school at the time, Kent High School, and working at a fishing-tackle shop tying flies and making lures after class. She said everyone her age was expected to work at the time.

She met Bert, who immigrated from Uppsala, Sweden, when he was 4 years old, at nearby Redondo Beach one day. After attending a dance at a dance hall called the Angle Lake Plunge, they fell in love. The two were married in 1934, and bought their first family home at McMicken Heights in what is now SeaTac.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Reathel said. “For $1,100 we bought three-fourths of an acre with a half-finished house. Bert finished it and we lived there.”

The couple raised two children, William and Patricia, in the house. Bert worked in engineering at Boeing while Reathel stayed at home to raise them. The house was near what is now the SeaTac Airport but was then just wilderness.

“We used to go over to where the airport is to pick blackberries,” Bert said.

The house was heated by a coal stove, and she still remembers having to drive to the other side of the valley to pick up fuel for it at the coal mines above Renton. It wasn’t her favorite task.

“The coal mines were all the way on the other side,” she said, chuckling. “I had to drive the car with the trailer down that steep, steep hill and up the other side, and the coal-mine people knew when I came they would have to help me get it positioned under the chute. I would drive it back and leave it for Bert to park after work.”

The family eventually moved back to Kent. The kids were getting older, and Reathel went to work for Boeing as well, as a clerk.

“Kent was a really small town when we lived there,” she said, adding that the town of now almost 90,000 only contained 500 people when she was growing up there.

Eventually, the couple was able to retire and began spending their winters in Arizona, summering locally in a house Bert helped build on Orcas Island. They traveled extensively through their retirement, she said, but now they’ve settled in at Parkside Retirement Center in Auburn.

“We really like it here now,” Norberg said. “We can’t travel too much anymore, so it’s nice to have a place like this.”

She admits they have kept their health for an amazingly long time. She says she doesn’t know why, but she joked she may know the secret to long life — cod liver oil.

“You can’t get cod liver oil anymore, but I still push fish oil on all my friends,” she said. “It seems to have worked for me.”

Norberg said she’s seen a lot of change in her years, but she said it’s society and its style of living that has changed the most.

“In our younger years, you did without, because you just couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Now-a-days, you just go and buy it. It’s really quite amazing.”

“Credit cards,” Bert echoed.

And the couple had some advice for the current generation living in such a fragile economy.

“Live within moderation,” Reathel said. “Live within what you have.”

Bert echoed the sentiment, quoting an old catch-phrase.

“Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses,” he said.

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