100-flower bouquet marks Walla Walla woman's centennial year

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In her late teens Ilea Adele Ferris Bennett was a cashier and stocker at Boys Market in Walla Walla before and during the Great Depression.

The Washington Odd Fellows resident celebrated her 100th birthday there with family and friends on Sept. 22. Scherry Johnson of Moore, Okla., marked the occasion with a burgeoning bouquet filled with one flower for each year.

Ilea was born in Clark, Colo., south of Steamboat Springs, to Berry Ward and Calista Mable Phelps. She was taught by her mother during her elementary years, then moved with her parents to Walla Walla in 1925.

Graduating in 1929, she married Walla Walla High School sweetheart George Ferris. His family owned Boys Grocery at Ninth Avenue and Chestnut Street through the mid-1960s.

While raising their daughter Zana Calista Hodge of Walla Walla and son Murry Floyd Ferris of Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., Ilea volunteered as Camp Fire and Cub Scouts of America leader.

Ilea co-founded and was bookkeeper for the Walla Walla Livestock Commission Co. in Eastgate in the spot now occupied by Kmart.

A ceramics buff for years, she made gifts for friends and family and continued this hobby away from home as a volunteer instructor at area hobby centers and schools.

“Ilea considers both air and space travel to be among the important events in our nation’s history, but has no interest in the computer/cell phone technologies of today. She also recalls her activist mother in Nebraska campaigning for women’s right to vote. The movement became law in 1921,” Murry emailed.

She describes second husband Truman S. Bennett as the love of her life. He died of cancer in 1990 and she never remarried.

Family members say she is a voluminous reader, still able to do so without glasses.

Other attendees from Odd Fellows and the community helped bring focus to the Ilea’s landmark event. Art and Zana Hodge hosted the gathering, which included Murry and wife Jane; and a number of grand-, great-grand and great-great-grandchildren, a niece and nephews.

From the 5-year-old to the 75-year-old, folks had a grand time during the Kirkman House Museum Victorian Ball. It was just one of several events commemorating Walla Walla’s sesqucentennial anniversary, since our town is now a venerable 150 years old.

“Overall, (it) went very well for the first year, said Rick Tuttle. About 75 attended, most dressed in period costume reflecting men’s and women’s fancy dress from the 1860s.

“Several of the high school students, male and female, had their own great outfits which was surprising,” Rick said. “Many hoop skirts and long-trained dresses were evident and apparently many were stepped on both by the male partner and the wearer herself. Hazards of the game and to be expected to some degree. But no one complained.”

Rented outfits came from Crossroads Mercantile of Waitsburg and Rose D’Zynes of Las Vegas. Several people made their gowns, including Judith Poirot, who also put together a lacy confection for her daughter and suits with tails for some of the men in their family.

“The live music was popular around 150 years ago and provided the rhythms for the very spirited dances,” Rick said. Also dressed in period attire, band members came together from Seattle, Spokane and Moscow, Idaho, “and combine when a gig presents itself. Apparently they play with other (musicians) and do their own things as well,” Rick said.

Authentic to the period, the dance steps are similar to modern contra dances.

“One couple in particular was reluctant to attend at all but by the end had so much fun they are now looking forward to attending the local contra dances,” Rick said.

“Although the museum lost money on the event we look forward to trying it again next October. The response was encouraging and I think we can find ways to trim expenses to make it profitable and even more fun.”

Kirkman House also hosted a dressy reception on Sept. 21 where period costumes were required.

“The Kirkmans (William and Isabelle) liked to entertain and the home is a perfect place for small gatherings,” Rick said. Period music was provided by Whitman College faculty members Sally Singer Tuttle and Jackie Wood. Jackie played the museum’s 1881 Weber box piano and 1890s pump parlor organ.

“It is an emotional experience to hear such beautiful music wafting throughout the museum as it once must have done,” Rick said.

In a related aside, I had the pleasure of attending the colorful, energetic, downright fun ball, wearing an 1860s dress I assembled from nine yards of artichoke green iridescent silk, trimmed in black velvet and black braid and an attached collar and sleeves in white cotton. I had always wanted a “fiddle-dee-dee, Miss Scarlett” type of dress and here was just the occasion in which to trot it out.

The exciting part came from the undergarment, a hoop slip “secured” by an elastic waist. You may see where this is going, “secured” and “slip” being the operative words. With every movement, the hoops caused the dress to sway like a bell and said slip shimmied south from waist to hips.

Fearing imminent disaster, such as a massive pileup of fellow dancers as I tripped over errant slip, I firmly grasped the ruffled, cotton-picking offender through the outer layer and prevented catastrophe. But next time, I’m wearing suspenders or I’ll attach it to a chemise for better security.

For more about Kirkman House, contact Rick at the museum, 214 N. Colville St., or 509-529-4373

The Macy’s Passport Fund provided a $2,200 grant to Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, made possible by 2011 proceeds raised through Macy’s Glampass program.

“We are grateful for the support from Macy’s and their commitment to support organizations that provide services to those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS,” said Everett Maroon, executive director, in the BMH2H Heartbeart fall newsletter.

This nonprofit group assists the community using funds it raises through a variety of efforts, including its annual Dinner for Friends with Friends.

Deemed a “great success this year,” 18 parties were held on Aug. 18 with more than 96 people in attendance.

“After all the delicious food was eaten, and donations counted, Blue Mountain Heart to Heart received more than $19,000!” From barbecues to formal dinners, the hosts and guests enjoyed themselves. Emily Tillotson chaired the fundraising committee and led the event.

Volunteers are sought to host a party and serve on the fundraising committee next year and others interested in receiving an invitation to the dinner which will be Aug. 17, 2013. Email director@bluemountainheart.org.

In case you’re seeking the office in Eastgate, it’s moved lock, stock and paper clips to the Walla Walla Community Service Center Building at Kelly Place, off Dalles Military Road.

BMH2H is now under the same roof as Helpline, Rising Sun Clubhouse, BMAC, Blue Mountain Action Council and Department of Human Services.

Ray Hansen’s son U.S. Army Spc. Eric Hansen, 22, has returned from a year deployment in Afghanistan with 95th Engineer Co., 14th Engineer Battalion at Camp Leatherneck.

He received the Army Commendation Medal for exceptional meritorious service as a combat engineer during Task Force Rugged.

As a 2nd Platoon sergeant’s driver from August 2011-February 2012 he assisted during casualty care and instructed and drilled crew members on his truck about their roles. His was the primary CASEVAC vehicle for more than 50 route-clearance patrols across Helmand Province.

Sgt. Matthew Karpinski cited Eric for “his immediate reaction to maneuver into position” after roadside explosive strikes and was “instrumental” in medevacs of injured soldiers.

Also a Husky tactical support vehicle operator, Eric drove on more than 10 patrols and was cited for “clearing over 500 kilometers of hotly contested terrain throughout Helmand Province.”

A Walla Walla High School graduate, he is currently stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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