By Derek Wiley
The Dalles Chronicle
Matilda Dorland says the key to a long life is positive thinking.
At 105 years old, she would know.
“I don’t have any secrets, just always think positive, never be negative,” Dorland said from her bed at Columbia Basin Care. “Even now with the problems I have, I’m still hoping I’ll be able to go home and maybe become a little independent, you know. I never want to think negative. That doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Up until a couple years ago, Dorland worked in her rose garden and was thrilled when she turned 100 and could ride the Wasco County Transit for free to Fred Meyer to do her own grocery shopping.
But early this year, Dorland suffered a small fracture in her hip, which turned into a spiral. She had surgery in Portland to put the pieces back together.
On Jan. 29, Dorland checked in to Columbia Basin for physical therapy.
According to nursing assistant Beth Chrisman, Dorland’s been a delight.
“We fight to work with Matilda,” Chrisman said. “She’s the sweetest thing ever. I love her so much.”
Dorland was born on Christmas Day, 1910, in Colma, Calif., to an Italian father and American mother. William Howard Taft was president. There have been 17 presidents since.
“I can remember presidents that you don’t even know about,” Dorland told a reporter who was born when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. “[Herbert] Hoover? You remember Hoover? And there’s a lot of others who I remember.”
Dorland said 105 years is enough.
“It’s really too long to live,” she said. “I’m ready to leave this earth anytime. That’s why I took the risk on this surgery. They said it was a serious surgery but I said I’ll do anything. I just want to get it over with and I hope I won’t wake up and I was so surprised when I did.”
While her hearing and sight are in decline, Dorland’s mind is sharp.
“I can remember so much,” Dorland said. “I don’t write my telephone numbers down. I have to memorize all of them because I don’t see well enough. I remember all of my telephone numbers. I remember just about everything that I want to remember.”
As a child, she recalls decorating Christmas trees before there were electric lights.
“We had a Christmas tree every year and in those days we had candles on it,” Dorland said. “It was beautiful. You had to be careful but it was nice. You had little candles and you had to watch that they didn’t catch anything on fire. You had to be sure how you put them on the tree.”
Dorland said she stopped driving in her 90s. Her first car was an Essex.
“They were rough riding but they were alright,” she said. “They weren’t very good looking but they took you where you wanted to go. That was a long time ago.”
Dorland married her husband of over 60 years, Robert, the day after his 18th birthday. She was 19. They lived in a small apartment not far from San Francisco.
Robert was in the U.S. Navy during World War II and Dorland worked in an office while he was away. They never had any children and moved to The Dalles 40 years ago.
“My husband was having heart problems and we thought it would be easier in a mobile home,” Dorland said. “He was an auto mechanic and a machinist. He loved to work on automobiles.”
They had a motor home and would travel to California and Arizona when the weather got cold. They’d go bowling and hiking.
Robert died in 1991.
“We had a wonderful, wonderful life,” Dorland said. “I can’t complain about a thing. My husband was a very talented man. He never had lessons to play music of any kind and he could play the organ. He could play the guitar. He never had lessons to be a carpenter but he built every home we ever lived in.”
Denise Campbell met Dorland over 17 years ago on a Jehovah Witness visit. While the two have different religions—Dorland is Catholic—they became like family.
Campbell calls Dorland her “adopted grandma.”
“She’s so adorable, how can you not love her?” Campbell said. “She has a positive and joyful spirit and a deep love for God. I just never wanted her to ever feel alone. My mom and dad, we all view her as part of the family.”
But Dorland has refused to let Campbell wait on her.
“She didn’t want anyone to do anything for her that she could do herself,” Campbell said. “She finally agreed to let me do her shopping.”
Mia Michel has lived next door to Dorland for 16 years.
“She’s very popular,” Michel said. “She’s a little sweetheart, very generous, never says a mean word about anybody.”
Besides her hips, which were both replaced in the 1980s, Dorland’s had few health problems.
“I never go to doctors unless I have to,” she said. “I don’t care about doctors. The last time I saw my doctor he came to my house and that was quite a few months ago. He said I was alright. He gave me some pain pills. I don’t take any pills either unless I have to. When I’m here [Columbia Basin], I have to do what they tell me.”
Dorland has lived in the same mobile home in Oakwood Estates for more than 40 years.
“In the mobile home court where I live there’s mostly older people, too, in their late 80s and 90s. But one by one they’re dying and I’m still here,” she said.
Once she completes her physical therapy, Dorland wants to return home.
“I would be happy if I could walk again and go home and be independent,” she said. “I have a small mobile home and it’s not hard to take care of. I have a woman that comes in and cleans for me and does my laundry so the biggest things are done. I’m going to keep fighting.”
For now, Columbia Basin Care is happy to have the 105-year-old sweetheart.
“Matilda from the start, the first day she was admitted, was charming everyone,” Marketing Director Drew Myron said.