Oklahomans who have reached 100 have positive outlooks in common
The Oklahoma 100 Year Life Oral History Project gave 111 Oklahoma centenarians an opportunity to share their life experiences. The project was a collaboration between Oklahoma State University faculty members — Dr. Alex Bishop, Human Development and Family Sciences, and Dr. Tanya Finchum, Oklahoma Oral History Research Program.
The generation represented was born before 1915, lived through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, participated in or had family members participate in World War II, and have seen innovations from the wringing washing machine to the cell phone. They have experienced the best and the worst of times but focus more on the good.
"There’s something about having lived that long and experienced that much. There’s always something that comes up to remind you of something good that happened to you."
Reaching the age of 100 and beyond seems to be more about attitude and perception. If something is beyond their control, these centenarians appear to let it go. If not, they tackle it. They also prioritize giving back, being mentally and physically active, and staying connected to other people.
Enjoying the arts throughout their lives or even late in life was another common theme. In retirement, several centenarians took lessons in art, painting and ballroom dancing. Not all, of course, waited until retirement to hone their talents. Oehlschlager, interviewed shortly after his 100th birthday, shared that he was always interested in the arts. He explained that in the early 1960s he lived in Yale, Oklahoma, and was involved with Stillwater’s Town and Gown Theatre. He stated, “I acted. I did other things, whatever needed doing, but mostly I acted. My first play (laughs) was a Tennessee Williams play. I had a very small part, but as I went along I got bigger parts, and I had a couple of leads. One time — I think my first lead was [The Madwoman of Chaillot].” The 1964 Town and Gown Theatre program for Mousetrap has Oehlschlager as portraying a detective and states he was a “faithful back-stage worker despite having to commute regularly from Yale.” The 1965 program for The Madwoman of Chaillot lists him as president, and indicates he had other leading roles.
Oehlschlager was born in Kansas, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and jointly owned a drugstore, a dry goods store, a grocery and a variety store in Yale. After selling these businesses in the mid-1960s, he relocated near Oklahoma City.
Getting unexpected pieces of Oklahoma history along with amazing life stories contributes to the value of this collection.
Allan Oehlschlager was interviewed as part of the Oklahoma 100 Year Life Oral History Project. Transcripts and recordings are available at www.library.okstate.edu/oralhistory/digital/100/.