Cathedral City -- Elizabeth Culbertson showed few signs of being 109 years old on April 4 in her Cathedral City home, aside from having to read lips while conversing and sharing a wealth of stories.
Born on April 2, 1905, in Park, Kan., to German immigrants who fled the impending first World War by way of Russia, the farm girl’s mind remains as sharp as ever -- despite only receiving a fourth-grade education.
Two days after her actual birthday and a day before her family’s Hawaiian luau celebration at Palm Desert Country Club, Culbertson found herself remembering her days on the farm. “My memory is a golden string through my life, and it all seems so happy, ” Culbertson said. “But I don’t think that’s true; I think we all have a few cobbled roads to travel.” Her parents’ oldest daughter of nine children, she said she was doted on growing up.
Once when she was little, her father, Joseph Naab, let her drive the family’s Tin Lizzie — the Ford Model T — through the family’s wheat fields to deliver lunch to the farmhands busy plowing. Though fluent in German, Culbertson recalls her teacher at Catholic school and the priest who would one day officiate her wedding, Father John Hackenbroich, telling her to go home and help her mother because she didn’t need to stay for fifth grade. That was the end of her formal education, though she remained interested in art. A sketch she drew of an orangutan hangs in her home above the striking photo of her late husband, George Culbertson, who’s framed with the Serenity Prayer.
Culbertson was working as a nanny when a waitress friend introduced her to George, an electrical engineering student visiting Dodge City, Kan., from Pittsburgh. He returned to school, and the pair corresponded for a year through letters until they wed on Aug 17, 1931, in Kinsley, Kan. The newlyweds built their first home in Pittsburgh — a five-room house of brick and steel in the style of the times — and called it the Dollhouse. “The house sat on the hillside of Rosedale and was quite romantic, I’d say, as I look back, ” Culbertson said. “George and I traveled to I think about every important city in the world because of his engineering techniques and business dealings.” That included exotic locales like Mexico City, so George could work on the city’s canal system, and Disneyland, where he helped engineer the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
When the Culbertsons wanted a family, they adopted two children: Paul and Mary Ann. Paul had Culbertson’s only grandson, John. “People ask, ‘What’s her secret?’ and I would say it’s not luck; she planned to live over 100 from a very early age, ” John said. “When I cleaned out her house, I must have found 15 books that were on how to live to be over 100.” John credits Culbertson’s home-cooked meals growing up on the farm for his grandmother’s health today. She didn’t have pizza, spaghetti or Chinese food until her 90s, avoids fast-food and drinks mostly water. Culbertson told John once that, “Every meal should be served with a potato.”
When Culbertson gets up to go to the bathroom in the night, she always combs her hair before returning to bed, John said, and she still has color in her hair. She avoids TV and the radio in favor of metaphysical books, and she still talks to her 98-year-old sister every week. Culbertson outlasted her doctor’s entire career, but he still treats her as a patient in retirement, and once, when he told her she looked 15 years younger than her age, she jokingly asked if he was making a pass at her, John said.
Her only dismay comes with the fact her physical health no longer allows her to do all the things she once enjoyed. Culbertson said she’s been cared for at home for the past year, since falling and spraining her hip, and her literary studies have become all the more important. “My boyfriend said something to me that sticks in my mind, ‘Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be,” Culbertson said. “President Abraham Lincoln said that and I like the looks of his dried-up, physical appearance, so I call him my boyfriend.”
George Andrew Culbertson
1901–1980 (m. 1931)
Joseph John Naab
Andrew Frank Naab
Edmund Winston Naab
M. Clement Naab
Bridget C Naab Jensen
Leo John Naab
Clemence William Naab
Benedict Robert Naab
Mary Magdalene Naab Ross
Sponsored by Ancestry