For the kids, she offers this advice: “Don't expect everyone to do all for you. Do some of it yourself.”
At the century mark, Geraldine Bass is quite spry, and her mind, while a little fuzzy on some details, is still quite sharp. And on February 7, she hits triple digits. She was a Girl Scout for 10 years, is still a PTA member, is a member of the Working Girls Sorority with the Gamma Sigma Phi chapter, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and all-around go-getter.
Born in 1918, Bass grew up on a farm in Illinois at the tail end of World War I and the start of World War II. She said she and her friends made their own toys and fun, recalling games of kick the can. She attended a small country school, where the grades of Kindergarten and up to high school age attended. The school was about three miles away, and had 10 or 12 children in attendance. When she began high school, she went to the nearby town on horseback, riding the six miles to her grandmother’s house.
“I only rode in when the weather was good. If it was bad, I just didn’t go!” She had to get the horse ready in the morning, saddling him up and then heading out. “I sometimes wonder how I smelled when I finally got to school.” Geraldine said.
She was a cheerleader and played drums in the band, which are some of her fondest memories. She graduated in 1935, and went to Decatur to attend college. She had intended to be a nurse, but they stopped offering those classes shortly after she arrived, so she took a few classes and went to work for a CPA.
“I worked there for a few months, but then managed to get a job at the hospital where I wanted to work,” she said.
She became a credit manager for the newly formed Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance, of which her hospital and two others in Decatur helped to form. She was the one thousand and first person to get their insurance. She worked at the hospital for eight years, through WWII and her husband’s deployment.
Her father, a military man, was set to go fight in WWI, but the war ended just before he left. He was pardoned from fighting the next war due to being a father of two. Her husband, however, did go to war.
“That was the worst day of my life,” she said. “You’ve seen those pictures of trains full of soldiers, with them leaving out of the windows for one last touch from their loved ones? I was one of those.”
He was with General Patton near the end of the war, and ended up at an overseas post office for a brief stint before he finally came home.
“That was the best day of my life,” she said. “When we learned the war ended, everyone got into the car and just drove around and around the transfer building.”
After that, she and her husband, Charles, had a pretty normal life.
“He worked for Steely Manufacturing, having been promised a job after he came home,” she said. “But it was indoors, and he didn’t like it. His dad and two of his brothers were carpenters, so he joined them. He was a good cabinetmaker.”
He stuck with it for 60 years.
She went on to work for Interstate International department stores. The manager had her attend a few classes to get her familiar with appliances and business aspects, then she became an office manager for the furniture store. She helped open two furniture stores, one in Springfield and one in Bellville.
She and Charles had avoided getting married through the Depression, so they dated for six years while they helped their parents through it. They finally settled down in 1945, and she had her first daughter over 10 years later, in 1957 at the age of 39. Her next daughter came a mere two years after that. With two daughter to raise, Geraldine didn’t work for 17 years, focusing on her girls. They managed to put them both through college, with one becoming a nurse and the other working in insurance.
“I had wanted four boys,” she said. “But I ended up with two daughters and two dandy sons-in-law!”
In the interim years, she helped take care of her parents, Charles’ parents, and her brother. To this day, she is more comfortable caring for others than she is being cared for.
“It’s hard to accept help now,” she said. “I’ve been a caregiver for so long. I’ve always enjoyed helping others.”
She and Charles retired in 1980, but she couldn’t stand being at home all the time, so she got a part-time job at a furniture store.
“That changed my life,” she said. “It got me out of the house. It was the best decision I ever made.”
That led to her volunteering at an “economy shop” run by a local church. She volunteered there for for 10 years. When they opened a second shop, she was the oldest one at the ribbon cutting. She kept her driver’s license until the age of 90, but had stopped driving at 89. She got around using a Decatur transit service, and
She lost Charles in 2005. He had reached the age of 90. She lived alone for a few years, and decided that it was time to move on; Everyone she knew in Decatur was gone. She came to the lake area because one of her sons-in-law had a lake house. She moved into the Laurie Knolls and remains there, reminiscing on her long life and sharing stories with those who wish to hear them.
“I’m where I belong,” she said.
When asked what she did to live so long, she replies “Not the slightest idea!”
“I’ve always done hard work,” She said. “I never had many health problems, and haven’t had any really major surgery.”
In fact, she’s only been to the hospital a few times, and of those times two of them were for childbirth. The worst injury she can recall is the time she gouged her shin on a horse hitching post as a teenager, and she still has the scar to prove it.
For advice to the coming generations, she says to be honest.
“I just want the people to be honest,” she said. “There’s so much going on these days that’s dishonest. Just be honest with yourself and in the things you do. Be good to people.”
She follows her own advice, and continues the practice that she started long ago of having candy or cookies available wherever she goes. She is averse to harming anyone, through word or deed.
“Even with one word, it is so easy to hurt someone,” she said.
She worries for the children, and their rapid adoption of technology.
“Much of this is beyond me,” she said. “Things are too much, too fast. I was always too busy for computers, but the kids love it. It just seems like they don’t have to work hard to get anything, and they want too much. But they’re so smart these days.”
For the kids, she offers this advice: “Don’t expect everyone to do all for you. Do some of it yourself.”
She says she sometimes wishes she had written a book. Having lived through so much, she would like to have it on paper, but she thinks it’s probably too late for that. As it is, she’s happy to have lived her life.
“Sometimes I sit up at night, going through it all in my head.”