Local card shark turns 105

Sep. 27—The only numbers that concern Central Point resident Virginia Batzer are the ones on the cards — or the folding money — when she's playing bridge.

Batzer, who turned 105 this past Saturday, is far less impressed with age than she is with the welfare of her cat, Jet, and finding suitable participants for her weekly bridge games.

To celebrate her 105th year, Batzer was treated to lots of family time, a homemade lemon pie and bridge for her birthday weekend.

Stepdaughter Mary Jo Baich said Batzer gets around — and keeps up with life — better than a lot of folks half her age. Indifferent to "so much fuss," the centenarian just rolls her eyes and calls for her fluffy black cat, Jet. The cat wanders the assisted-living facility at Twin Creeks, not one for being slowed down or fussed with, much like his owner.

A native of Valentine, Nebraska, Batzer was born Sept. 24, 1917. She grew up doing "the usual things," playing in the street, riding horses and enjoying the occasional tent show that rolled into town. She remembers the novelty of her hometown's moniker, affirmed by people sending mail to be stamped "from Valentine" each year on Feb. 14.

Raised by a woman who ran a boarding house, Batzer said the woman's sister lived across the street with 13 kids.

"Two or three of them were my age, so I had lots of playmates growing up," she recalled.

Moving to Oregon in her 20s, Batzer was married to Ernest "Ernie" Flakus for "at least 50-something years." The couple had one child and adopted two more. She worked over the years as a lab technician and even as a crane operator during World War II for the shipyards near Vancouver.

"I don't remember how I ended up running the crane, but it was an interesting job. I needed a job, and it was a job. The only thing that bothered me was climbing the ladder to get up into the crane," she said.

"I remember I met one girl who I got to know really well, and she climbed into her crane and fell to the ground. It was quite a long ways down, and she was killed. It was a really sad thing. I was probably in my 40s then, so quite a few years ago."

After her first husband passed, Batzer eventually married Jack Batzer, the founder in 1955 of Batzer Construction. Jack Batzer's first wife was killed in 1982 by a hitchhiker, and Jack Batzer was seriously wounded in the attack.

Virginia, whose children grew up with her late husband's children, recalled wondering when he would remarry.

"Jack was single for about 13 years after his first wife was murdered. We used to walk in behind him at church, and I remember I would always wonder about him and why he never got remarried," she said.

"Little did I know, I was going to be the one."

In their 80s when they both wed for the second time, Jack and Virginia, who shared a combined 10 children, traveled extensively and played lots and lots of cards, Baich noted. Jack Batzer died 17 years ago, in 2005.

Baich, who described her father as "a party waiting for a place to happen," said he found happiness with his second wife and would always defer to her when the most serious of card games were about to happen.

Baich teased that her stepmother's seriousness about cards has yet to wane in the slightest, despite first getting her hands on a set of cards at the age of "5 or 6 years old."

"Virginia won't play unless there's money on the table," Baich said. "And she teaches all the grandchildren to play as soon as they're old enough to hold a stack of cards."

A testament to her competitive streak, Batzer holds the distinction at Twin Creeks Retirement as being the only senior to have ever achieved a grand slam on the facility's Nintendo Wii game.

Recalling the world contained "a lot more peace and quiet" a century ago, Batzer remembers a carton of eggs costing 9 cents, kids throwing eggs at each other and at houses — though she insists she never participated — and families being bigger and closer-knit.

As for herself, she was independent back then and will remain so, she said.

While she makes concessions here and there — she sleeps in the smaller of her two bedrooms because the cat prefers it — she regrets giving up driving when she turned 95.

"When you get a little older, people start to really frown on you still driving, which is too bad," she said.

Ever wheeling and dealing, Batzer traded with a friend, offering use of her car for the agreement to drive her wherever, whenever she wanted. Baich noted, "It was a great deal. They might just take off and go get lunch and go to the museum in Klamath Falls."

Batzer rolls her eyes at all the fuss about her age.

"Everyone says, 'Oh, you're amazing, you're SO amazing,'" she said, waving a hand in the air.

"It's all I hear downstairs, and I don't know why because I don't do anything out of the ordinary, really. There's a lot of people who are younger than me who can't do as much as I do, but I think people sit around too much."

Baich said Batzer recently met an offer for home health services with "buzz off." Residing in assisted living, she's required to be able to live independently. Baich said she can't imagine Batzer any other way.

"She had a minor, small heart attack recently, so after she was back home, the hospital, Providence, calls me up and says, 'We're gonna send over home health,' and I said to myself, 'Oh, boy!' I told them, 'Let me check with Virginia first,'" she said with a laugh.

"So, I call Virginia and I tell her what they said, and she goes, 'Now, let's see if I've got this right. I got up this morning. I washed my hair. I did it. I fed the cat. I emptied the dishwasher, and I took all my pills by myself. What is it that they think they're going to do for me?"

Batzer said she's happy to still live life on her own terms, for as long as she can.

"I'm very independent," she said. "I don't want anybody waiting on me or telling me what I'm going to do. There are people here who think it's a big deal if you turn 100, but that you must just die after that. Well, I certainly didn't."

She added, "I think life is what you decide you want it to be."

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.