Jean Gillis, a Prineville resident since 1938, celebrated her 100th birthday Saturday afternoon

by: JASON CHANEY - Jean Gillis was regularly greeted by well-wishers who attended her 100th birthday party on Saturday afternoon at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.

Jean Gillis sat comfortably in a rocking chair with a blanket draped over her lap, and a red and pink scarf cloaking the back of her neck.

To each side sat a floral arrangement on a small end table, and a chair awaiting well-wishers.

Across the room, large, white sheet cake adorned with red frosting flowers read “Happy 100th Birthday Jean.”

The chairs alongside her rocker were rarely left empty this past Saturday afternoon, as dozens of friends and families who attended the celebration at St. Andrew’s Church came by to converse with the new centenarian.

Of the many birthday parties she was enjoyed over the years, Gillis said this one was “about the biggest.”

“Look at this,” she said in amazement. “It’s just wonderful.”

When Gillis was born, Woodrow Wilson was president and the country only consisted of 46 states. She started her life in De Smet, Idaho, and remembers living in a huge log house with many bedrooms where family and friends were often on hand.

She developed a prolific vocabulary at a tender age when cattle from a nearby ranch broke through a fence into her mother's garden. The cowboys used colorful language while rounding them up and Gillis recounted that she readily picked up the bad words.

Gillis graduated from St. Nicholas School with honors in music and married her first husband, Jack Wilkinson, by the age of 19. Her husband learned the lumber business while the couple was living in California, then moved to Prineville in 1938. The couple later separated and Gillis married James Gillis in 1965. He died of cancer in 1968.

St. Andrew's pastor Steve Uffelman arrived in Prineville in the early 1980s and has come to know Gillis as an anchor for the church congregation.

"Jeannie has just been one of the builders of the congregation ever since it has been here," he said. "She has been remarkable. She has done everything she could to remain active in the congregation."

Another visitor, Dr. Denny Thomas, who by his own admission is "10 years behind Jeannie," visited briefly with Gillis and they mused on the 100-year milestone.

"There are more centenarians than there ever have been," Thomas said. "People are living longer."

Giving the statement some thought, Gillis seemed to agree.

"Being 100 isn't such a milepost anymore," she remarked.

Most, if not all of her guests, saw it differently, including Thomas, who said that Gillis reaching her 100th birthday was remarkable.

"It's amazing," Uffelman said of the feat. "It is a great event to celebrate. We don't have many people who are as spry as she is at 100."

Gillis has managed to keep herself busy throughout her long life. She has served as president of both the Ochoco and Crook County garden clubs. She was secretary for the Crook County Genealogical Society as well as the Crook County Mineral Society and Prineville Camera Club.

The centenarian even delved into the local political scene as chair of the Crook County Republican Party and as a precinct committeewoman.

While staying active is commonly recognized as one of the keys to longevity, Gillis pointed to another trait that she feels helped her reach the century mark.

"It's because of my strong Scottish constitution and family," she proudly proclaimed. She explained that her Scottish grandfather and Scottish grandmother each lived long lives and made the same claim.

"They both lived into their 90s and they both said it was their Scottish constitution."

Gillis started a family that since grown several generations deep during her 100-year life. She has one daughter, two grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, one great-great-granddaughter, and even a great-great-great grandchild.

"It's been a wonderful life," she reflected as she watched her party guests mingle around her. "Lots of friends and lots of family."

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