The following is part of a series about the area’s centenarians — those age 100 or older. We’ll tell their stories as they reflect on their young adulthood and offer advice for younger people today. If you know of a centenarian who’d like to speak with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eunice Bradley wasn’t necessarily planning to become a teacher, but somehow she ended up having a career of about four decades in education.
Bradley, who turned 100 on Friday and lives in her home in Manhattan, grew up in the towns of Princeton and then Richmond, Kansas.
She was the oldest of three girls. Her father was a rural mail carrier for most of her childhood, and her mother made their clothes. She said her parents gave them a comfortable life.
When she graduated high school in 1937, she said there were not many career options for women.
“You were a secretary, you could be a nurse, you could be a teacher,” she said. “That was about it, as far as the small community that I grew up in... If you were a nurse, you weren’t necessarily a bad girl, but some people thought you might see things you shouldn’t be seeing.”
She had aunts who were teachers, so she thought she’d give that a try.
Bradley went to Emporia State for two years, which gave her a “lifetime certificate.” Then she got a job in a one-room schoolhouse in Berea where she earned $55 a month. She was in charge of 13 children spread across eight grades.
It was difficult at first to manage students at so many different levels — she said she cried after her first day — but eventually it came to feel like a little family.
The schools in the area eventually consolidated, and she got a job at the “town school” teaching third and fourth grade.
Then one Sunday afternoon in 1941, Bradley was playing bridge with her friends when they heard over the radio that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. The country was at war.
To this day, Bradley is not sure what made her want to serve with the military.
Since the Army was then taking men up to age 44, her father was nearly sent overseas. She had a cousin killed in the Battle of the Bulge. Over time, she felt she wanted to do something.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “I just knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life teaching in a small town. I had to get my degree, I had to get out. I had to do... Have you ever felt like that?”
She went to visit her sister in Kansas City. She said she went downtown, enlisted in the Naval Reserve with a program called WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). The next thing she knew she was on a troop train headed for Hunter College in New York.
“What a change for this country girl,” she said. “Whew!”
By that time, she said the war was nearly over, but there were enough sailors coming back that they needed Bradley and others. They helped care for sailors in a hospital in Idaho and later in Seattle.
Through the GI bill, Bradley eventually got her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s degree. She was working as a school teacher when she found out that Kansas State University was looking to expand its education curriculum and needed someone to teach language arts. She taught at K-State from about 1953 to 1958.
It was at that time that Eunice met her husband, Howard. He had two kids and taught vocational agriculture. Because there was a rule that two married people couldn’t work in the same department, Eunice left for a job in the local school district. Bradley retired around 1982. Howard died not long after that.
Bradley said even when she was married, she was a pretty independent person.
“Howard was not a chauvinist, but he would have to remind me, sometimes, who was boss,” she said, smiling.
Bradley said she’s glad she’s able to do things for herself. That becomes more difficult when one gets older, she said. It was especially traumatic when she couldn’t drive herself anymore, she said. And she finds that she sometimes has to remind people that she can make her own decisions.
Bradley said she would celebrate the occasion of her 100th birthday with a series of visitors, mostly family, over the course of a week or so. She had a niece coming in from Tampa, and a nephew coming from Los Angeles. There would be a nice dinner. On Tuesday, Bradley was trying to decide where she wanted to go for dinner — preferably a place with good cheesecake. Otherwise, she wasn’t too excited about her birthday.
“I have no desire, necessarily, to be 100,” she said. “It just happens.”
Bradley had a basket of birthday cards in her living room. She has macular degeneration but said she planned to look through them using a machine that helps her see.
She said she had no secrets for longevity, but she did have some advice: “Keep an open mind and be tolerant of people who have different opinions than you,” she said.