SOUTH BEND – Gladys Kirch and Jeannette Davison sat side by side just outside the kitchen of Gladys’ daughter’s home.
They laughed together while recounting old stories, not unlike the laughs they have shared throughout their 95-year friendship.
Gladys, 100, and Jeannette, turning 100 on Monday, have known each other since they were 5 years old, Gladys said Thursday.
We met in the front yard as kids, she said, voice squeaky as she recovers from an illness.
Gladys lived in a corner house at 919 Sherman Ave. in South Bend, though she was born in Elkhart. Gladys’ father died when she was young, she said, and her mother made the move to South Bend.
Jeannette lived at 1111 California Ave. with her grandparents – just four houses away in the near-northwest neighborhood, Gladys recalled.
Grandma Strom (Jeannette’s grandmother) would let her come to my house, Gladys said. She would stand in the yard and wait for her to get down to the house.
Jeannette, or Jenny, as Gladys calls her, can’t remember much of her childhood now, outside of a few memories, according to her daughters, Cheryl Puterbaugh and Diane Fry.
However, that hasn’t affected her happy personality and her constant giggle, Cheryl said.
They used to call her Pollyanna, because she has laughed through life, Cheryl said.
Diane said Jeannette often recalls stories of going ice-skating and playing tennis as a child, as well as playing in the neighborhood with Gladys and other children.
Gladys placed her hand on Jeannette’s arm, recalling stories for her as Jeannette tried to remember.
You were always at church rehearsing to sing, Gladys said to Jeannette. You were always singing.
Gladys teared up as she remembered moments of their friendship.
Jeannette – well, I call her Jenny because she’s my Jenny, she said, tearing up.
She paused and took a moment to compose herself.
They called me a natural cry baby,’ Gladys said. Just the other day I was watching my story and then ... as she mimicked tears running down her face.
Jeannette and Gladys graduated from Central High School in South Bend in January 1931. Their hobbies included sports and dancing every Saturday and Sunday at the Palais Royale, she said.
Both got jobs and then were married, having children and remaining friends throughout their lives as they outlived their husbands – Jeannette’s died in 1963 and Gladys’ in 2000.
Gladys had two children, and Jeannette had four. Both stayed in South Bend, though Jeannette now lives near Benton Harbor with Diane.
Elaine Pedersen, Gladys’ daughter, said she is blessed to have a parent live for so long. Diane and Cheryl agreed.
She’s an inspiration to Paul (Elaine’s husband) and I, Elaine said. She just keeps going. If she has a tear one day, she turns it into a smile. ... She’s so strong in the face of problems, and she’s all about love.
What’s the secret to long life? Both women said they weren’t quite sure.
Just being goofy! she said. That’s all.
Gladys also took a light-hearted approach to longevity. She turned 100 on Dec. 23.
I get asked that a lot. Be happy, be kind, she said. That’s about it. The rest is up to the people around you.