Elsie Wilson’s secret to reaching 100 years of age is along the lines of the successful business model she and her late husband, Jack, put in place for nearly three decades running a women’s clothing store in downtown Vernon:
“Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Wilson turns 100 on Thursday, May 18, and will spend the milestone with her son, Bob, and family for afternoon tea.
She and Jack were the owner/operators of the F.M. Ladies Wear Shop on 30th Avenue, where Carousel Consignments is today. The pair purchased the existing F.M. Shop in 1968 and kept it until they closed 28 years later in 1996.
“It was already in existence, a wonderful store,” said Elsie in her home.
Wilson was born in Brandon, Man.– “a pretty good place to grow up,” she said – on May 18, 1923, the fourth of four girls. She graduated from Brandon Collegiate High School but never went to college as her family couldn’t afford it. She took a job as a cosmetician at Clements Drug Store in Brandon.
“I’d walk to work in 40-below weather in high heels and silk stalkings. I wonder why I’ve got knees that won’t work,” chuckled Wilson, firmly seated in her wheelchair.
Brandon is a military town where the local base would put on community dances. At one of these dances, Wilson happened to be leaning against a wall when a dashing young army mechanic came walking over.
“You like being a wallflower?” said Jack to Elsie.
“You’re not doing much better,” replied Elsie.
“We came here to dance,” said Jack. “So let’s dance.”
And with that, a 68-year love story was born.
The couple married in Brandon on June 7, 1944 with only 12 people in attendance. Elsie’s mom made the turkey for dinner and the wedding cake.
A case of the mumps would keep Jack from serving overseas during the Second World War. The ship he was supposed to sail on overseas was sunk by the enemy.
Jack was discharged from the Army in Vancouver and that’s where he and Elsie settled for a few years. Daughter Marilyn was born in 1947 (but would die at age 17 from a brain aneurysm). Bob came along in 1955 after the Wilsons moved to Vernon.
Some friends of theirs had taken a teaching job, and Jack was an apprentice furrier (one who deals in furs). When they got to the Okanagan, Jack opened Wilson Furs on 32nd Street and 31st Avenue (where Blast From The Past Antiques is). He kept the business after the Wilsons purchased the F.M. Shop.
Elsie, meanwhile, on her first day in Vernon, walked into Nolan’s Drugs and got a job as a cosmetician that would last 25 years.
“I talked to Chester (Nolan) and said I’d like a job. He said, ‘I could use you right now,’” said Wilson. “Nolan’s was a wonderful place to work at and great people to work for.”
So enthralled were the Nolans with Elsie’s work, they took her, her family and staff out to dinner at the old Hong Kong Village in Chinatown. It was the only farewell party, Elsie said, the Nolans ever threw.
“I don’t know if they were glad to get rid of me or what,” laughed Wilson.
“Jack did all the alterations and we had a wonderful woman who worked with us for a long time named Nellie Craig. She was very good, and so were the other girls,” said Wilson.
After she and Jack sold the F.M. Ladies Wear Shop they enjoyed retirement together, which included bus trips to Vernon’s sister city, Modesto, Cal.
Jack passed away on Nov. 6, 2012.
“We had a wonderful life together. We produced two wonderful kids,” she said. “It’s funny. All through high school, I would read about the Okanagan Valley and think, ‘Would I ever live there?’ And just a few years later, we are living in the Okanagan.
“You just never know.”
Wilson will receive messages on her milestone from her two granddaughters in Ontario, Bonnie and Katherine. The family is hoping that people will be kind to send her cards for the big occasion. You can send a birthday wish electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by regular post to Elsie courtesy of #302-3005 37th St., Vernon, B.C. V1T 6X2.