September 19, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 37

Oldest lifelong resident toasts 97th with friends

The secret to longevity?

“Work like hell and keep a garden,” said Hazel Englund, who celebrated her 97th birthday at a table at the Pioneer Bar Saturday, surrounded by friends and family.

Believed to be the town’s oldest lifelong resident, Englund worked at the bar in the early 1930s. Back then she was Hazel Vermiere and the Pioneer was the Pioneer Beer Parlor, operated by Lou LaMoore, a madam who entertained men upstairs. Englund worked as a waitress and quit after getting married, as her mother considered serving food an inappropriate job for a married woman.

Englund has since developed her own standards for what’s proper. She’s known for an irreverent sense of humor and high housekeeping standards.

At Saturday’s party, she used “little fart blossom” as a term of endearment for middle-aged “youngsters.” Greeting longtime resident Jeanne Kitayama, one of several dozen residents who turned out to wish her well, Englund said: “I haven’t seen you in a while. I thought maybe you’d kicked the bucket.”

“Aunt Hazel’s humor is something you have to prepare yourself for,” remarked great niece Brenda Smith.

Nephew Louie Meacock, 73, said Englund has softened with age, but not much. Friends and family members now stack the wood in her woodshed, but rarely to her standards, he said. “She restacks it. She says they don’t know how to stack wood. There’s too many air spaces. She gets uptight when they leave bark on the (wood shed) floor.”

Englund is the last of the Vermiere sisters, seven daughters born to a homesteading farmer who raised crops in the area of the present day Department of Transportation barn.

Exploits involving her sisters included riding single-speed bikes to the Canada border on numerous occasions and shaving their heads and posing as boys to get hired for work at the Coliseum Theater.

As an adult, Englund raised four children and liked to hunt.

“She still gets out in the garden. She might be hauling wood or shoveling snow. She tries to get out every day,” said daughter Emily Zimbrich. That’s a virtual retirement from when Englund would shovel the length of her driveway from her hillside “doll house” to Haines Highway.

At the Pioneer Saturday, Englund sat at a table with friends Versia Bieleski, 99, Belle Sage, 85, Helen Tengs, 86, and Roy Lawrence, 84. She was presented with a giant sheet cake ringed by 97 candles, as partiers sang a second or third round of “Happy Birthday.”

Asked what she wanted for her 98th birthday, Englund said, “To look and act younger.”

Family and friends said despite her tough exterior, Englund is an inspiration. “She’s been a great source of strength to me, ever since I was a little girl,” said great niece Smith. “I know my life’s been richer knowing her. She’s like a Timex (and) not these new Timexes. She just keeps on ticking… Her sense of humor, I think that’s part of why she’s lived so long. She laughs a lot. That’s chicken soup for the soul.”

Party-goer Mary Price, 84, said she plans to stick around for her own 100th birthday. “I’m an ornery old coot like Hazel.”