"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Willie Weinstein — a well-lived life

By on October 29, 2018 in Articles with 0 Comments

Willie Weinstein sits for a photo on a deck in her backyard where she has lived for 40 years.

By Susan Lagsdin

Sometimes it’s instructive to look backward and outside our contemporary feast of lifestyle choices and media-driven chaos at a life well-lived in another time.

What stays the same? How have we changed? What can we learn? Making comparisons, we can draw wisdom.

An active 96, glowing, poised and positive, Willie Weinstein remains resolutely upbeat about her life. A lifelong resident of Wenatchee, she married into a prominent and philanthropic family instrumental in the city’s progress. She now lives alone and comfortably in her familiar East Wenatchee apartment, a 40-year tenant.

But she defies any easy stereotype of her generation; she’s often out and about, or on the phone and working on projects. She said, “When you don’t do anything — what are you able to give? And if you can’t give to people, what’s the use of living?”

For Willie, aging well means using whatever health and wealth you possess to live each day as fully as possible. And it means staying in good spirits. She said she recently received a phone call from a distant relative who said, “I just called you up to hear you laugh.”

Picture these few scenes from her life story:

n A sixth-grade girl — a girl! — practices hours a day throwing a baseball at a target so she’ll be sure to win, not once, but twice, the coveted Hole-In-One pitching award. Her prize? A thrilling tour of the newly-constructed Grand Coulee Dam.

n A clarinet-playing cutie working high school weekends in a swinging dance band downtown once catches the eye of the son of a wealthy investor and businessman… and the rest, after the war, a formal introduction and a first date, is love and marriage.

n An earnest young surgical nurse fresh out of graduate training works backbreaking 12-hour shifts in a San Francisco hospital tending to amputees and brain-injured soldiers and sailors just shipped in from WWII’s Pacific Theater.

n A spunky young bride, early on in a month-long California honeymoon, one night in Palm Springs finds and carefully positions a mammoth pine cone between the sheets on her unsuspecting groom’s side of the bed.

n A woman just shy of 90 rockets confidently along an interconnected series of ziplines in the lush green upper canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest. As she said of all spectacular world travel sites she visited: “I just wanted to see the beauty of the thing.”

Willie has been variously described as “a sweetheart,” a “go-getter,” and a “firecracker,” with a pace her middle age family members find hard to match.

Granted, she depends on the kindness of others for transportation to shopping, doctor appointments and church at St. Luke’s Episcopal; with her eyesight iffy, the ’97 Park Avenue Buick stays parked. “Well, I do take it up the driveway to the garbage can once a week,” she confessed.

But she’s at work each Tuesday by 7:45 a.m. at the front desk of Central Washington Hospital, respected as its oldest and the longest-employed volunteer. (Willie was pleased to inform a few of the young doctors, “I was your grandfather’s babysitter.”)

Volunteer coordinator Ceci Wood, also a longtime family friend, said even with big changes at the hospital, Willie is never flustered. “She’s taught me so much: stay busy, don’t hold grudges, and carry on. And she’s never afraid to start something new.”

Willie believes it was her early career as a nurse that lead her to first volunteer at the hospital 16 years ago. Trained during the war years at Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle, then on duty in the Bay area, she soon returned to Wenatchee and continued as a nurse educator at Deaconess Hospital.

However, on her honeymoon in 1947, her husband, Royal Weinstein (they’d met formally only months earlier at a mutual friend’s wedding and had a whirlwind romance), said he didn’t want her to work as a nurse. Instead, he really needed her help in The Fashion Shop, one of several family enterprises his parents owned.

“I immediately realized,” said Willie, “How awfully selfish it would be for me to stay in nursing. I’d always be giving time to other people — and my husband needed me just as much. He was right, and I never blamed him for that.”

She soon became a mainstay of the exclusive women’s wear store at 25 North Wenatchee Avenue, taking buying trips to both coasts and planning fashion shows, designing Apple Blossom royalty dresses and generally running a tight ship. She said, “Every day when Royal walked in the front door, he’d immediately ask, ‘Where’s Willie?’”

An event early in her marriage further cemented the good graces of the society-conscious Weinsteins. She was asked by the wife of a local judge to be the single flag bearer from Washington state for the Daughters of The American Revolution convention in Washington D.C. Willie remembers, “It was quite an honor, and I know that made a really strong impression on the family.”

Though she was a working mother with civic responsibilities (including Applarians and the Lake Chelan Yacht Club) and soon three sons, Willie took time for trips with her husband to Alaska, Panama, San Francisco. “We had so much fun! I hated leaving the boys behind, home alone with babysitters… Royal didn’t seem to mind it, but it hurt me.”

Her son Dick, present for this interview, assured her it was OK. “Really,” he continued, “It was fine.” He added, “Mom was always protective of us, stood up for us. We had it all — it was a really good childhood.”

In 1972, retirement and the sale of the business gave Willie and Royal a chance to travel even more, aided by perks from her eldest son’s position with Pan American Airlines. For 20 years, Willie said, “Oh, we went everywhere, all over the world — we stayed in the best hotels, ate the best food, and Ed could take time off to be our tour guide.”

She brought out a stack of small journals with short lists on their end pages like 1980, 8.25 – 10.11: Delhi, Kashmir, Bangkok, Singapore, Bali. Or 1982, 8.29 – 10.12: London, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Istanbul, Bombay, Tokyo.

Willie was deeply saddened but undaunted by the death of loved ones — Royal, after a long illness, in 2002; a favorite brother-in-law and traveling companion, Stearns, and her middle son John more recently.

But she keeps on keeping up, her daily life sparkled by visits, her social calendar full. Willie was a treasured companion six years ago for friends Gay Cordell and Kaytie Crandall at the helm of their sailboat, traveling up the inside passage from Tacoma toward Alaska with lively conversation and  Scotch at sunset. Not bad for 90.

Willie’s perspective on 2018 is as positive as her everyday habit of waking up every morning with at least one goal to accomplish. What’s good about young people today? “Oh, they’re so much more relaxed and confident than we were. Maybe more… self-centered.”

Manners? She decries the informality of clothing, recalling the suit, heels and gloves days of Pan Am travel. But she remarked that someone is always there to cheerfully open a door for her.

How about technology? “They are completely re-inventing the world!” (she’s not a fan of computers, but, Dick said, “She is handy with the TV remote.”)

And the city itself? “I love what’s happening in downtown Wenatchee — all the trees growing up, the lamps and signposts…” She did question the viability of parking for new condo and apartment-dwellers, and she distrusts roundabouts.

Friends and family? They’re everywhere.

With four grandchildren, four great-grands and numerous nieces and nephews, Willie’s still the special-occasion gift giver. It’s getting complicated. She laughed, “Sometimes I’ll get a card saying, ‘thank you so much for the tablecloth and napkins,’ and I’ll have to think ‘what was that about?”

“My mother has a love of life that’s so brilliant,” Dick said proudly, “that her friends in their 70s and 80s have learned from her how to live their lives well as they mature.”

At the end of our interview, the question of regrets or, “I wish I could” came up. Willie mused quite a while, then responded, “There isn’t a thing I’ve done I didn’t want to do — and I think I’ve done just about everything I wanted to. I’ve lived a good life, a very good life.”

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