Irene Aboltins from Kent celebrates her 105th birthday

Irene Aboltins remembers her first thoughts of Kent when she arrived in 1977, a new grandmother, ready to settle in a new state after many years of moving from place to place.

Irene Aboltins

Irene Aboltins

Irene Aboltins remembers her first thoughts of Kent when she arrived in 1977, a new grandmother, ready to settle in a new state after many years of moving from place to place.

“It reminded me of home,” she said during an interview Tuesday at the Stafford Suites retirement community in Kent.

Home is Latvia, a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Aboltins had a hard and often sad childhood, but her struggles did not take away the love she possesses for her roots.

“It was beautiful, Latvia was,” she said, with a smile that made her light, blue eyes crinkle.

Aboltins celebrated her 105th birthday Oct. 22. Family coming to celebrate with her say the biggest gift Aboltins gave them was a knowledge of their culture.

“She taught me to be proud of my heritage and to keep the language and customs alive,” said daughter Maija Atvars.

Aboltins was born in the town of Liepaja in 1906. As the daughter of an army man, Aboltins moved to Russia with her family during World War I.

 

It was there Aboltins learned Russian, her fifth language. Besides her native Latvian and Russian, she speaks English, Polish and German.

After five years in Russia, Aboltins returned to a country that was now chaotic. Latvia’s economy suffered during the war as the country fought for its independence.

Aboltins stayed positive by writing. She created short stories and poems.

“I write whatever is in my heart,” Aboltins said.

Aboltins worked for her mother’s deli and at a culinary school. She met her husband, Reinholds Aboltins, in her early 20s and settled down.

“I wanted to go to college, but in those times, it wasn’t acceptable for women to do that,” Aboltins said.

Her peaceful life was disrupted when World War II began. The Aboltins and their daughter Maija were sent to Germany to stay in a refugee camp.

“We all tried to immerse ourselves in our Latvian heritage through dancing, choir and plays,” Atvars said. “I went to a school at the camp and my mother sang in the choir.”

When the war ended, the family moved to England and then Australia. They lived in a Latvian community in Australia where they practiced their traditions, such as folk dancing.

“It was hard to live there because many of the local Australian people did not accept non-English speakers well,” Atvars said. “We could speak, but we had an accent, so we were still not accepted.”

Aboltins missed Latvia.

 

“It was too hot,” she said, shaking her head.

Atvars finished college and went to Canada to work. The plan was to return to Australia to be with her family and move back to Latvia, but something changed Atvars’ mind.

“I met my husband and never came back,” she said. “He got offered a job at Boeing and we moved to Seattle.”

After retiring, Aboltins and her husband came to live in Seattle in 1967 so they could be with their grandchildren.

“I just wanted to see my grandchildren be born,” Aboltins said. “That’s all I needed.”

Aboltins didn’t expect to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest.

“The greenery, the trees and the weather reminded me of Latvia,” she said.

Following a period of being part of the Soviet Union after World War II, Latvia declared its independence in 1991. It was a happy time for Aboltins and her family, as her grandchildren also attended a Latvian school and cared about their heritage.

Reinholds Aboltins passed away from cancer a year later. Irene was married to him for 60 years.

“My mom has been saying for 20 years now that she won’t be alive for her next birthday,” Atvars said, laughing. “She is a great woman and we are all happy to have her with us.”

Aboltins still likes to write poetry for others and loves to be around family. As a woman living through many struggles and in many countries, she has learned many things, but offers one piece of advice.

“Just work hard all your life,” she said.




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