O’Connell celebrates 100th anniversary, says optimism is important

Shirley O’Connell clutches her iPad as she sits celebrating her 100th birthday and awaits a moment worth capturing on her tablet’s camera. Her enthusiasm for capturing memories and using the latest technology is part of the fabric of Shirley O’Connell and her youthful energy – even at 100 years old.

O’Connell recently celebrated her 100th birthday with friends, neighbors and family at Atria Senior Living. Surrounded by her husband Jack Ogburn and loved ones, it was a true celebration of O’Connell’s life with photo collages, flowers, tiaras, cakes and balloons.

“I’ve lived 100 years and I know it’s hard to believe, I can’t believe it,” O’Connell said.

Gale Springer-Chorpash, Atria’s Director of Engagement, helped organize the birthday celebration with the help of Johnny Ortiz and her assistant, Irma Berg, and they have been mesmerized by O’Connell’s vibrancy since the day she moved into the facility .

“We just thought, ‘This lady is just something different, energetic, kind, and able to come to our activities, participate in them, and love Jack to death,'” Springer-Chorpash said. “She’s just a very interesting character.”

Springer-Chorpash said O’Connell carries her iPad everywhere and takes photos of others and events at the senior living community.

“She’s going to take these pictures, print them, and show them to people, which gives them memories of things that happened,” Springer-Chorpash said.

A picture of Shirley O’Connell as a child in Wisconsin and playing with her doll. Courtesy/The Signal

O’Connell was born on January 9, 1922 in Evansville, Wisconsin, a small town 30 minutes south of the city of Madison. Her father, Norman Lunde, was a Wisconsin state chess champion who supported his family as a linotype operator.

During the Great Depression, Lunde was unemployed and became a photographer to earn a living during the nation’s most trying times. Her father’s influence left a lasting impression and fueled her love of photography.

At 19, O’Connell married Milton Plumb. He was stationed in Chicago during World War II, and she took the train to visit him before deployment. She had moved her seat on a train at the suggestion of the conductor, who informed her that the middle would be more convenient for her as she was pregnant.

Shortly thereafter, the train was involved in a serious incident that resulted in the deaths of those who took O’Connell’s place after she had moved. Plumb saw service in North Africa and Italy during World War II. Upon returning, Plumb would die at the Veteran Administration Hospital in Wisconsin.

In 1947, O’Connell had lived in Wisconsin for the first 25 years, but then switched and moved to Arleta in the San Fernando Valley, where she lived for more than 70 years.

A few years later, O’Connell married Army soldier Jack O’Connell, who attended Cal Poly Pomona, became an aeronautical engineer, and worked for Lockheed. Jack O’Connell died of cancer in 1977.

One day while exploring the Panorama Mall, O’Connell met another mall walker, Jack Ogburn. Ogburn was a former radio operator during World War II and the Korean War.

For 30 years, Ogburn brought a rose for O’Connell every morning. Additionally, Ogburn’s work as a member of the Screen Actors Guild allowed the couple to attend many celebrity events and dinners.

Celebrities with whom O’Connell has taken pictures include Betty White, Michael Douglas and many film and television celebrities.

The couple broke bread with the rich and famous, but also enjoyed a healthy hobby of geocaching, a recreational treasure hunt by people looking for caches or hidden objects.

There was never a particular decade that O’Connell loved most, but when she met her husband, Jack Ogburn, she said it was one of the best moments of her life.

Shirley O’Connell stands in front of a collage of photos of all the celebs she’s met over the decades. Victor Corral Martinez/The Signal Courtesy/The Signal

“It’s hard to say because all the decades have been pretty good, but I’ve had a few bad ones. I’ve had two husbands who died, they were ill for years,” O’Connell said. “After that I met Jack and that was a better decade because we cruised and we did geocaching.”

The couple’s hobbies included creating greeting cards, video presentations and photography. This passion for life would continue even after they sold their house in Arleta and moved to the Atria Community.

“My son taught me how to use an iPad, and after that he told me they had the digital camera inside them,” O’Connell said.

There’s no secret to O’Connell’s longevity or health: She stays up late and tries to eat healthy, but she just lives the day and enjoys her days with Ogburn.

“I didn’t expect to live this long, but I live one day at a time,” O’Connell said. “I feel good, so I’m not thinking about dying.”

As she reflected on her life, O’Connell said to stay happy and positive, and that her body will respond to those emotions.

“I say every day is a surprise and I try to stay optimistic,” O’Connell said. “It’s your approach to life that makes you who you are.”

Shirley O’Connell and her husband Jack Ogburn pose in front of the birthday decorations at the Atria Senior Living facilities. Victor Corral Martinez/The Signal

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