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103-year-old celebrates birthday

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By Jerianne Strange

 The world was a completely different place when Alma “Dora” Taylor was born on Jan. 3, 1910, in Beaver Dam.

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“Oh, my – things have changed,” Taylor said on Thursday, the day she celebrated her 103rd birthday. What stands out among those changes? “There’s been so much,” she said.

A resident at Sunrise Manor in Hodgenville, Taylor marked her birthday with a party that included her daughter and son-in-law, Marilyn and Hardin McLane.

After the group of family, friends, residents and staff sang “Happy Birthday,” a man asked Taylor how old she is. 

“I’m so old I forget,” she replied with a chuckle.

Taylor was one of seven children born to Benjamin Franklin Burden, a Baptist minister, and his wife, Rosa Della Burden. Rosa Burden died in November 1918, during the Great Influenza Pandemic. Taylor was just 8 years old; her youngest sibling – a sister – was just 10 weeks old.

“A woman who lived next door, who had no children, came over to help care for the kids,” Marilyn McLane said. “My grandfather told her she shouldn’t come to the house because of the risk of her getting the flu, but she said the kids needed a mother figure to care for them. She felt the power of prayer would keep her well.”

The neighbor did not get the flu, but one of Taylor’s brothers did. He was quite ill, but survived the outbreak that killed about 675,000 in the United States and more than 50 million people worldwide.

Taylor has seen great advancements in medicine and technology over the past 103 years. 

The year she was born, Thomas Edison demonstrated the first talking motion picture. In 1928, penicillin was discovered, however its widespread use didn’t begin until the early 1940s, in World War II. In 1930, when Taylor was 20 years old, Scotch tape was patented. Ten years later, the modern color television system was invented. (In 1950, 14 million television sets were sold in U.S.) The polio vaccine was first tested on humans in 1952. The world’s first human heart transplant occurred in 1967.

Taylor has lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She witnessed history as it happened. In 1920, the year she marked her 10th birthday, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was signed into law. In 1932, Taylor cast a vote in her first presidential election. The voting age then was 21. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) and Herbert Hoover (R) were the candidates. (Roosevelt won.) In all, she has voted in 20 presidential elections. 

 She watched as monumental events occurred, such as when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. In October 2010 – Taylor’s 100th year – the International Space Station broke the record for the longest continuous human occupation of space, having been inhabited for 3,641 days.

As a young woman in 1934, none of those events were on her mental horizon. After all – who would have thought mankind would be able to live in space continuously for nearly 10 years or even be able to go to space? She had more immediate things on her mind.

She married Rochie Taylor that year. She smiles and gets a faraway look as she recalls their courtship and early life together. They started out their married life in Beaver Dam, where their daughter Marilyn was born. The family moved to Louisville when Marilyn was 5- or 6-years-old. Rochie Taylor worked for International Harvester and Dora was a stay-at-home mom.

Rochie Taylor died suddenly from a heart attack in 1962. His daughter said he had no previous heart problems. Dora Taylor had to go to work and so she began a career as a nurse aide at Baptist Hospital, a position she held for 23 years.

Wanting to be closer to her family, Taylor moved to Elizabethtown in 1985, becoming the second resident at Huddleston House, located on the downtown square. She lived there until November 2011, when she moved to Sunrise Manor.

“She has always been very independent,” said her son-in-law, Hardin McLane. “She fell about five years ago and broke a hip. That slowed her a little, but it didn’t stop her.” 

She drove until she was well into her 90s, he said, and she walked at least a mile a day – sometimes two – through downtown until she broke her hip. 

Sally Rineker, Quality of Life Director at Sunrise Manor, said Taylor is one of the more independent residents. “She gets herself up and gets dressed on her own. She pretty much does everything she can for herself,” she said.

Basketball is a passion for Taylor. It doesn’t matter if it’s U of L or UK – she likes both teams. And wherever Bobby Knight is coaching, she’s got her attention tuned in. “He’s such a rascal,” she said with a chuckle.

She’s got a real sweet tooth. Mention candy, cookies or cakes and Taylor’s up for whatever the activity will be. She’s not diabetic, doesn’t have a weight problem and isn’t real picky. “If it’s something sweet, she’s happy,” Rineker said.

In addition to her daughter and son-in-law, Taylor has a grandson, Michael McLane, who lives in Elizabethtown. Her granddaughter, Michelle, died of cancer in 2009. She has two great-granddaughters – Lauren and Erin, both of whom are 12. Her “baby sister” – her only living sibling – is 100 years old and lives in Russellville.

Taylor enjoys sharing memories. She was 19 at the start of the Great Depression, and over the next 10 years, she had to deal with extremely limited resources and severe shortages. She recalled how difficult and trying the times were. “I wasn’t sure it would ever end,” she said.

Her husband was deferred from serving in World War II because of varicose veins, she said. She doesn’t recall the atrocities of the war, but clearly remembers the nationwide rationing.

While so much has changed, many things remain the same. She still enjoys reading romance novels – in old-fashioned book form, please – none of the newfangled electronic gadgets for her. Face-to-face visits are a treasure, she said, being able to be near someone, to reach over and pat a hand.

What does she think may be coming next in the ever-changing world? She pauses to think, then replies with a smile, “I can’t imagine. I just don’t know.”