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101 years filled with art, travel, memories

For 101 years, the day after Christmas has been more exciting for Grace Wooldridge than the holiday itself.

Born one hour after Christmas, on Dec. 26, 1897, in Middlebury, Vt., she was born the second child of Grace Emma Fleming and George E. Cobbley, who later moved to Windham, Mass. She ended up with five sisters and two brothers.

Mrs. Wooldridge, who lives in Largo, remembers details from her childhood, such as Cobbetts Pond in Windham near her family home, where ice was cut for the town. Her youngest sister, Clara, still lives in that home, where the girls would play and skate for hours.

She also spent many hours sketching. Her mother, the first to recognize her artistic talent, sold a home she had inherited to put her daughter through art school in Boston.

After school, she worked for several wholesale dress companies as a fashion sketcher and then went to work as a draftsperson at a factory in Bridgeport, Conn. She was the only woman in the office. To reach the drafting board, she had to sit on a high stool.

She laughs when she recalls that she had many beaus and "could have married many times, but Mom wouldn't let me. I went to all the Northeastern University dances, but my art came first."

On Oct. 8, 1937, when she was 39, she married George Wooldridge in a "lovely ceremony at my family's home right next to the pond." Her husband was an electrician and owned and operated his own business. She turned her artistic talents to knitting and crafts. The couple had no children.

Mrs. Wooldridge says she never regretted leaving her artistic career for the life of a homemaker.

"We had a lovely life," she said. "Traveled a lot, took cruises to the Panama Canal, Bermuda, Hawaii, Mexico, but we never went to Europe."

About 40 years ago, the couple retired here, and shortly after they celebrated their 25th anniversary, Mr. Wooldridge died of a heart attack.

She has been living on her own for more than 30 years in the little home they bought in Largo. Never a sickly child, Mrs. Wooldridge now only takes drops for the glaucoma in her failing eyes and wears hearing aids.

"It's not my nature to call the doctor for every little ache and pain," she said.

But she has needed help lately, and the only visitors she received were the volunteers from Meals on Wheels. Just before Christmas, her legal guardian told her he was leaving her at Madison Glen while he visited his family in New England.

"They think you don't know anything because you're over 100, but I know that this isn't a temporary thing. I can't take care of myself anymore. I need to be in a home. I'm not upset about it. I like my new surroundings."

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