The View From 100: Lurline Bird

By Joy Conklin September 15, 2009 10:27

“Find something you love to do and just keep on doing it.”

That’s the secret to her happiness, says retired schoolteacher Lurline Bird, who turns 100 years old in October and has been happy for every one of them.

“It’s the work you do to help others that’s important,” she says. “When I retired, I started to volunteer, and I kept on volunteering right into my nineties.”

Lurline is the volunteer who managed Sonora Community Hospital’s Lifeline program from its start in 1983 until 2000, when her husband’s failing health kept her closer to home. The fee-based program’s electronic devices can summon emergency aid, thus helping people live independently and in their own homes.

“If we had a patient who needed a Lifeline device, Lurline was the one we called,” says Cathie Peacock, the hospital’s volunteer coordinator at the time. “It was a big job.  Lurline was responsible for the paperwork, for making the home assessment, and for training users.”

Lurline also volunteered on the hospital’s nursing units.  “One Sunday morning after church I had to stop off at the hospital on Lifeline business,” she recalls. “They didn’t have a Pink Lady, and so I stayed to help. From then on I volunteered on Sunday mornings. I figured the Lord needed me at the hospital more than he needed me at church.”

Lurline was born in Oakland on Oct. 1, 1909, the daughter of Pearl and Antoine Miguel.  Her father was Hawaiian, a seafaring man, and her mother was from Kansas and worked in a mill. Lurline had four brothers and remembers their childhood as both idyllic and adventurous. Back then, Oakland was a place of “wildflowers and meadowlarks,” with an ocean shore so covered with shells Lurline would fill up her bloomers to carry as many home as she could.

She remembers a sea voyage to Hawaii when she was 8, not on a fancy tourist ship, but a ship her father was working on. She’ll never forget her fright “when one of the crew picked up my brother Art, who was 4, held him over the railing and acted like he was going to drop him in the ocean.”

In Honolulu in 1917, she and her brothers watched the funeral procession of Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii. “There were balconies above the shops, just like in Sonora,” she recalls. “Father’s friend lived in an apartment above a store and he let us watch from the balcony. I remember it like yesterday, the men in loincloths leading the long funeral procession and the women following them in black dresses that covered them from head to foot.”

In 1937 Lurline married Ted Bird, whom she met six years earlier at San Francisco State Teachers College (now San Francisco State University). Years of violin lessons had earned her a place in the orchestra where Ted, an Angels Camp native, played trumpet.

“We met one night after rehearsal when Ted picked up my violin and started to walk out the door with it. I stopped him and said, Where are you going with my violin? This was during the Depression. He said, I thought I could get a buck for it.

“After that,” Lurline reflects, “we were always together and finally we were married.”

Theirs was a college romance that developed into a lifelong partnership devoted to community service. She began her teaching career in a two-room schoolhouse in Copperopolis and Ted began his in Altaville, now part of Angels Camp. When their sons, David, now a retired Sonora police officer, and Phillip, an artist, were school age, Lurline returned to teaching. For 10 years she taught the children of Columbia, where she started a kindergarten, then taught for 10 years at Sonora Elementary School.

Ted held teaching and supervisory roles in Calaveras County schools from 1933 to 1946, when they moved to Sonora. Ted led Sonora Elementary for 23 years, first as principal and later as district superintendent.

Lurline and Ted retired from the school system in 1969, but their influence as outstanding citizens continued strong for the rest of the century. In addition to Lurline’s hospital work, they remained active in the Elks, Eagles and Moose lodges, E Clampus Vitus, county Historical Society, Red Cross and American Teachers Association. The Theodore Bird Independent Study High School is named for Ted.

Though she continues to grieve Ted’s passing a year ago – in 2007, they celebrated their 70th anniversary – Lurline has retained her lifelong hold on happiness. Her physical health is excellent and her mind is sharp. She still lives in the house Ted built in 1947 that perches high up a spidery street above downtown Sonora. At 99, she drives her own car and does her own shopping. She has no problem parking in the garage below the house and maneuvering groceries up the 14 steps into her kitchen.

“My doctor brags about me,” she’ll tell you. You can see why.

As she nears 100, Lurline says she has no worries. She is grateful to have so many happy memories and a wealth of friends and family in close touch.

“These days I spend a lot of my time reminiscing,” she says. “I play it all over in my mind, all the good times we had and oh, how I enjoy it. I lie in my bed, think about Ted and enjoy all of it all over again.”

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Joy Conklin September 15, 2009 10:27
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*