Flanked by her art, Ardith Tall shares wisdom of longevity

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ardith Tall smiles before enjoying a breakfast burrito during a party for her 95th birthday held at McDonald's restaurant in Beaverton on Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. Talls ritual is to have a breakfast burrito and a Coke each morning at the restaurant. At five years shy of 100 years old, Ardith Tall figures she’s lived enough to know herself — and how she comes across to others.

“I like to be just who I am, and I don’t pretend I’m something I’m not,” she says. “That’s what people like about me.”

With around 80 friends, admirers and family members turning up to celebrate her 95th birthday on Saturday morning at the McDonald’s at 9475 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, it’s a good indication Tall knows of what she speaks.

Living in a nearby neighborhood for decades, Tall, an accomplished artist and retired employee of Portland’s Emmet Travel School, has visited the restaurant every morning for at least the past 10 years. She’s been a regular patron since the restaurant — one of Oregon’s first McDonald’s — first opened in 1963. To reward the Idaho native’s longtime loyalty and good humor, the restaurant’s management — with the encouragement of Tall’s friend Cynthia Richards — decided to throw a birthday party with nearly as many guests as years Tall has been on the planet. They provided a birthday cake, party favors and a birthday card for Tall containing a $50 “Arch Card” for her to use at subsequent visits. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ardith Tall, Dolores Banton and Prisca King pose for a picture during Tall's 95th birthday at McDonald's restaurant in Beaverton along Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

“This is our first big party here,” said Linda Sarrazin, a McDonald’s swing-shift manager who lives in Aloha. “Ardith has been coming in for a very long time. We like her great smile, her youthfulness. When she said she was turning 95, I said, ‘No, you can’t be 95!’ Her personality and her smile, it rubs off on everyone.”

Commandeering her favorite window seat, which was lined with about 15 of her striking nature and scenery paintings, Tall enjoyed a breakfast burrito, chatted with friends and relatives and accepted gifts throughout the three-hour gathering.

“It’s wonderful,” she said of the birthday party. “I feel blessed that I’ve been able to stay around this long. I have wonderful friends.”

Always a McDonald’s regular, Tall’s 7 a.m. routine solidified when she retired from Emmet Travel School at age 85.

“I was so used to getting up in the morning and acting nice, I couldn’t just stay in bed,” she said. “I woke up at 6 and was at McDonald’s by 7. It was wonderful for me because I’d see lots of friends.”

With her late husband, Ronald — who died with Alzheimer’s disease 25 years ago — Tall remembered bringing her son William, who shares her birthday, and daughter Christine Steinmetz to order at the restaurant 50 years ago when the fast-food giant was in its infancy.

“This was one of the first ones (in Oregon),” she said. “There were no tables. For the past 10 years I’ve been coming for breakfast.”

It was several years earlier, when she accompanied her husband to France, where Ronald, an oral surgeon, was stationed after World War II. Living there for a year and a half around age 40, Tall developed the artistic skills she’d first learned as a young girl. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jack Leonard kisses her friend, Ardith Tall, during Tall's 95th birthday at McDonald's restaurant in Beaverton along Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

“I was always interested in art,” she said. “I had a few lessons, but not many. I walked through so many museums. When I saw a picture, I thought, ‘Maybe I could copy that.’”

Tall continues to create and sell her paintings.

“I’ve sold a lot of them,” she said, estimating she has 40 paintings at home. “I mostly do them on consignment.”

William Tall, a Sacramento, Calif., resident who turned 55 on his mother’s 95th birthday, said he’s always remembered Ardith as a graceful and generous artist.

“She started when I was young,” he said. “She was always painting when I was growing up. All the grandkids have a painting or two from grandma.”

Although mom’s not given to drawing attention to herself, William admires her ability to listen to and empathize with others.

“She loves people. Sometimes all people want is a kind word, and she feels that’s something she can do, particularly if someone is sad or lonely,” he said.

Milt Christensen, bishop of the Beaverton Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has known Tall from the church since 1988.

“She’s such an example of dignity and poise, and someone who can do things on her own,” he said at the birthday party, ascribing her healthy longevity to an innate compassion. “It’s probably because of her positive attitude and her desire to be kind and love other people — and getting out of bed every day and just coming here.”

Steinmetz, a dental hygienist who graduated from Beaverton High School in 1973, said her mom is not one to sit idly and watch the world go by.

“She gets up, she gets dressed and is ready to go anywhere, anytime,” she said. “If anybody calls her, she’s ready to go.”

Steinmetz is confident Tall will have no problem reaching the centenarian mark five years from now.

“The reason is her grandkids,” she said. “There’s some special things coming up. My 22-year-old daughter said, ‘Grandma, you have to make it to my wedding.’”

Of the many things Tall’s learned over the years, one comes particularly handy in her daily breakfast visits to the golden arches.

“I’ve never smiled at someone who hasn’t smiled back,” she said. “I just love to talk to people. I always learn something.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ardith Tall celebrated her 95th birthday with her friends at McDonald's restaurant in Beaverton along Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

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