Dot Buchanan of Auburn celebrated her 100th birthday on April 12. She was born in 1919 on Blake Street in Lewiston. “Life is good,” said the mother of three daughters. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

AUBURN — In 1919, three women named Dorothy were born within five months of each other.

They all grew up in Auburn, graduated from Edward Little High School in 1937 and worked at jobs in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

Dot Buchanan’s family and friends held a party for her 100th birthday. “It was quite the party,” Buchanan said. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

Now, in 2019, Dorothy Buchanan, Dorothy Murray and Dorothy Kern are all turning 100 years old and living by themselves in the same homes that they grew up in as children.

All three women have stayed in touch with each other over the years, and on April 14, all three gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn to celebrate Buchanan’s 100th birthday, which had occurred two days earlier.

With  300 years — or 157,680,000 minutes — of life experience among them, they agree on one thing: Life has been good to them.

The Great Depression and graduation

Buchanan, Murray and Kern grew up during the Great Depression when much of the land outside the downtown was still undeveloped.

Kern spent her days gallivanting around the land surrounding Grandview Avenue.

“All of the land near us was sand,” Kern said. “They hadn’t built houses on Gamage Avenue yet. Instead, there were just big piles of beach-like sand that we would play in.”

She said she and her sister would explore the woods near Pettengill Park, sometimes stopping to pick blackberries or to drink water from the brook.

“We were always told that if a frog was in the brook, that meant the water was safe to drink,” Kern said.

Many of Murray’s early memories centered on her German shepherd, Lindy, who was her “wonder dog” and was “extremely smart.”

In the winter, she would hook Lindy up to a sled and rope, stand on the back of the sled and practice racing by running up and down snow-caked Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

“This was before Lisbon Street was as busy as it is now,” Murray said.

While she was in middle school, Murray participated in a dog sled race at Pettengill Park. She directed Lindy by snapping her fingers and pointing in the direction that she wanted him to run.

“Lindy was so strong,” Murray said. “We raced against a bunch of other teams that day who had full teams of dogs, and Lindy won it all by himself.”

Buchanan described life in the early 20th century as “very good.”

She formed a friendship with Kern in elementary school that has lasted nine decades, and was the head cheerleader at Edward Little High School.

“Life was a lot different in high school than it is now,” Buchanan said. “We had very small classes, and there wasn’t bullying at school the way there is now.”

Dorothy Kern of Auburn will turn 100 on Sept. 23. Kern retired in 1980 after 20 years of being the librarian at Edward Little High School. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

Kern and Murray said that they were fortunate to make it through the Great Depression without much trouble.

“We had an average life at that time,” Kern said. “I remember doughnuts being a treat for us during those years. We had to be very careful how we spent money, but whenever we could have a doughnut, it was a real treat.”

Murray said that during the Depression, she and her family grew accustomed to eating pickle sandwiches and washing them down with milk.

“They were the most delicious pickle sandwiches,” Murray said with a laugh. “You might think, ‘Pickles and milk don’t go together,’ but those sandwiches were wonderful.”

Hardworking women

Buchanan and Murray took secretarial courses after graduating from Edward Little, with Buchanan attending the now-defunct Bliss Business College in Lewiston and Murray attending Nasson College in Springvale.

Buchanan said she had aspirations to be a teacher after graduating from high school, but her father “was of the generation that thought women shouldn’t go to college.”

“I obeyed my father,” Buchanan said. “He was the most wonderful man you’d ever meet in your life, but he was from a different generation.”

She said she was able to diffuse her frustration at not being able to teach by working with Brownie and Junior Girl Scout troops, and serving on the YWCA board of directors.

She spent 35 years working for her brother at Austin Associates, a business that her brother, Earl Austin Jr., founded in 1950.

“I was a secretary and would punch in people’s income taxes on my IBM Selectric typewriter,” Buchanan said.

Murray worked most of her life as a secretary or executive secretary at different companies. She said her paychecks were “supplementary income.”

“The money I made went towards paying for my kids to go to school or to help my kids buy something that they needed,” Murray said. “I consider myself a problem-solver. I grew up during the Great Depression. (My husband Frank) and I didn’t have anyone to help us, because everybody was struggling. That’s why I was driven to do what had to be done.”

Kern attended Bates College and graduated in 1942 with a degree in English.

She worked at newspapers throughout the 1940s and 1950s, including the Lewiston Daily Sun, and supervised a study group at Edward Little High School.

While she was supervising the study group, Kern said she was asked by the staff at the high school if she wanted to serve as the school’s librarian.

She went to Colby College for a year and was certified as a librarian in 1960. For the next 20 years, she worked at Edward Little High School, showing students how to find books that they needed and working to increase the number of books offered at the library.

Kern and Buchanan stayed connected through the Young Mothers Club, or “YoMo Club,” as Kern’s husband, Dutch, called it.

“It was a club where we’d get together, have sandwiches and coffee and talk about life,” Kern said.

Memories

Buchanan said one of the downsides to being 100 years old is that some of her memories are harder to recall than others, with which Murray and Kern both agreed.

However, certain memories have stuck with all three women, even decades after they happened.

Buchanan said she remembered the years she spent working as an executive secretary for the American Red Cross during World War II.

“My husband served in the Navy, and during that time, I helped home health nurses keep track of the families of servicemen,” Buchanan said. “If a family lost a son, we’d do grief counseling for them. I did that until my husband came back from the Pacific in 1945.”

Murray said one memory that has stuck with her was from the late 1920s, when she, her parents and her grandparents drove from Maine to Florida. In the 1920s, the roads were made of red clay and when it rained, they would turn to mud, she said.

“Cars would always get stuck in the mud after a rainstorm,” Murray said. “Farmers would stand at the bottom of hills, where cars got stuck, and charge $5 to pull them up the hill.”

Dorothy Murray, who turned 100 on April 21, sits in her house on Conant Avenue that has been in her family since 1924, when she was 5 years old.  Sun Journal photo by Matthew Daigle

When Murray and her family crossed into the South, she said, “It was like they were still stuck in the Civil War, where it was the North against the South.”

“We stopped at a person’s house to stay overnight, and they said that the women could sleep inside, but the men had to sleep in the car,” Murray said. “They wouldn’t even let any men inside the house.”

Kern vividly remembers her brother, Norman, spending a lot of time at the movies in the 1930s.

“His favorite types of movies were gangster movies,” Kern said. “He was always dressing in these white jackets so that he looked like the gangsters in the movies he watched.”

Staying busy

Buchanan and Murray turned 100 years old in April, while Kern won’t reach the century mark until Sept. 23.

All three women still live alone and do things independently, with some assistance from their children and grandchildren.

They have also found numerous ways to stay busy, not allowing age to get in the way of staying entertained.

Buchanan said that after she retired from Austin Associates, she spent more than 20 years working for Shaklee Corp., a company that sells natural nutrition supplements and beauty and household supplements.

She worked for Shaklee as a consultant through her 80s and 90s and still provides nutrition advice for her friends and family.

Murray said she still drives whenever she has a chance.

“I took a test in my 90s, and they said I was still OK to drive,” Murray said. “It’s good for me. I like going places. I don’t like to be tied down.”

Kern loves to garden, read, and sing and play the piano. She is a lifelong member of the High Street Congregational Church in Auburn.

On April 14, all three Dorothys attended a celebration of Buchanan’s 100th birthday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. It was the first time in decades that they had been in the same room together.

Buchanan said her party was attended by more than 100 people and was filled with familiar faces from different stages of her life: friends, family, former co-workers, Girl Scouts that she had taught decades earlier, and former bosses.

She said it was a reminder of how important it is to remain connected to people.

“For me, the most important thing in my life has been really getting to know people,” Buchanan said. “It was pretty amazing to see all of my friends from the years and all of the people who I formed bonds with.”

Buchanan was quiet for a moment before saying, “Life has been good.”

[email protected]


Comments are not available on this story.