Pe Ell woman dies 3 weeks short of 110th birthday

For more than a century, Pe Ell resident Imo Dodge was known to have a strong work ethic and ability to make people laugh.

“She had a great sense of humor,” Dodge’s close friend Louise Powell said. “She used to tell me, ‘The world does not revolve around you.’ She was always telling me things. I should have written it all down.”

Dodge, one of the oldest people in the state, died in her sleep on Jan. 21 in Pe Ell, 19 days short of her 110th birthday.

Dodge could no longer walk on her own, was legally blind and hard of hearing before her death, but she could still reminisce about seeing her brother leave for World War I, riding horses on the family farm before cars became common and working in airplane factories during World War II.

“She personally witnessed over a century of history other people have only read about in history books,” Powell said.

Dodge met Powell in 1962 while they both worked at a nursing home in Portland. Powell, who considers Dodge family, celebrated her own 74th birthday on Feb. 10 for the first time in more than 40 years without Dodge.

“We always celebrated our birthdays together,” Powell said. “I had a luncheon at the United Methodist Church in Pe Ell, but it wasn’t the same without her.”

At her 109th birthday last year, Dodge celebrated at the Maple Street Manor in Pe Ell with her caregivers, fellow residents and Powell.

With her guests sitting by, Dodge shared a prominent memory of the first time she saw a car roll through her hometown back east.

“Who went prancing by was the mayor,” Dodge said. “He had just bought a car. I think it was a Ford. I was 11 years old.”

She received birthday cards from local friends, Pe Ell Mayor Spencer Nichols and the town council members, but the most notable card came from President Barack Obama.

The president sent her a letter and a signed photograph to honor her birthday.

Dodge moved to Pe Ell in 1987 and lived with Powell for 24 years until moving into the Maple Street Manor two years ago.

Dodge, who has been married five times with the last marriage ending in 1964 when her husband died, retired from working at the Portland nursing home in 1974.

Powell remembers many times Dodge made her laugh, including when Dodge was 93 years old, and rode a lawnmower in the Pe Ell Fourth of July Parade with a sign that read “I’m looking for work.” Than seven years later, at 100 years old, Dodge rode on the lawnmower with a sign saying, “I really need a job, the pickings are getting slim.”

Besides her brother, who was six years older, Dodge had a sister, 11 years younger, who died two years ago. Dodge also has four stepchildren that all live around the country.

Born in Battle Creek, Mich., in 1903, Dodge was the oldest person in Pe Ell. In fact, she was three years older than the town of Pe Ell itself. Pe Ell became an incorporated town in 1906, according to state records.

John Abplanalp, an epidemiologist at the Lewis County Health Department, said there is no way to track who is the oldest person in the county because records only show births and deaths.

Census data from 2010 noted that 13 people — four men and nine women — were 100 to 104 years old and two women were 105 to 109 years old in Lewis County.

Statewide, the 2010 census said one person at 109 years old and two people at 108 years old were the oldest in the Washington.

At 109, Dodge would have been one of the oldest in the state.

Powell, who still lives in Pe Ell, recalls the time when she first moved to town with Dodge.

Dodge painted the entire outside of their house at the age of 84, Powell said.

“If something needed fixing,” Powell said, “she would find a way to fix it.”

Kyle Spurr: (360) 807-8239