Ardella Carter’s bedroom walls at the Berkeley Pines Care Center are covered with photos of her family — with the one exception of a framed picture of President Barack Obama. His photo is next to a letter, written on White House stationery:
“For over a century, you have witnessed great milestones in our Nation’s history, and your 107 years represent an important part of the American story,” the letter reads. “As you reflect upon a lifetime of memories, we hope that you are filled with tremendous pride and joy.”
Signed, Barack and Michelle Obama.
Carter, who turns 107 this Thursday, has lived through both World Wars, the first “talkie” movie and even saw Louis Armstrong perform at a Mardi Gras Parade in 1930.
She was the oldest person to receive a hip replacement at UC San Francisco at nearly 100 and was up and walking the next day.
Carter has been in the center’s care for the last few years and has lived in Berkeley for nearly three decades. She spends her days receiving a steady stream of visitors, lying underneath a quilt that she made by hand — although she has since forgotten.
While the years have taken a toll on her memory, Carter remains remarkably alert, according to the nurses and workers who care for her.
“She’ll always say that she likes your smile,” said Carter’s nurse, Judy Adams. “She’s just a blessing, just to know her. She’s a very sweet woman.”
Carter remained active well into her hundreds, baking pies, crocheting afghans for Hurricane Katrina victims, growing peanuts and babysitting her adopted grandchildren.
“She is just a completely lovely woman who raised a lot of children of different creeds and colors, foster or adopted,” said social worker Ona Schneider. “They all come to see her, and they all call her ‘grandmother.’”
Born at the beginning of the 20th century as Mary Frances Odella, Carter was the seventh of 10 children, according to a commemorative pamphlet written by her extended family. At 16, Carter moved to New Orleans, obtained a child care job and changed her name to Ardella.
In 1943, Carter traveled to California to visit her sister and never left. She worked first in a shipyard and then in the tailoring industry in San Francisco. Twenty years later, Carter returned to child care, helping raise her employer’s son, David.
Photos of David and his wife and two sons cover Carter’s walls. Adams, called them Carter’s family. In one photo, a beaming Carter sits between two smiling young boys — David’s sons, who regard her as their great-grandmother.
While she doesn’t remember much about her childhood or her life in Berkeley, Carter is always alert when it comes to David. The family visits frequently, to the point where the workers at the care center casually refer to them as Carter’s son, daughter and grandchildren.
On Wednesday, Carter’s family, blood-related and otherwise, will celebrate “over 100 years of living.” Like last year, the birthday party will showcase pictures from Carter’s life and bring together all the people who call her family.
Contact Sophie Ho at [email protected].