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Living history: St. Peters resident Mary Craden turns 100

Mary Craden

When you turn 100, one party just isn’t enough.

St. Peters resident Mary Craden turned 100 on June 5 and, that evening, over 100 family and friends honored her with a gala celebration. The following afternoon, more partying was underway at the Aspen Trails Senior Living Community. At that event, St. Peter’s Mayor Len Pagano made an appearance.

Pagano presented Craden with a framed personal letter and even sang “Happy Birthday” with the rest of the party-goers. In the letter, which he read aloud, he reminded Craden that she lived during the most eventful century of the world’s history. Craden interrupted the mayor and jokingly said, “I know. I’ve lived it. I was Rosie the Riveter!”

Rosie the Riveter, a fictional character, was featured in an ad that became the most iconic image of working women during World War II. Craden couldn’t contain her patriotic pride as she explained her important job to the mayor.

“I was a bullet inspector and the boys overseas all got good bullets. There were no mistakes made by me!” she exclaimed.

Mary Craden with Mayor Len Pagano

Craden’s diligent work ethic and strength of character resonated with Pagano, who acknowledged that Craden also worked for the Francis Howell School District as a cafeteria worker until she was 95 years old.

“There were many great things done over the last 100 years and you are a part of that,” Pagano said in his congratulatory remarks. “You are history.”

Laughter followed his last comment, but there is truth in it. Craden has lived through the end of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and 9/11. She heard Martin Luther King speak, saw President John F. Kennedy assassinated and witnessed President Richard Nixon resign. Craden made sure to let everyone know that she remembers it well.

“I have lived through many wars and the Great Depression. I remember when hamburger meat was 25 cents a pound,” Craden said. Her family said she has many interesting stories to tell.

Craden was born in St. Louis but moved to New York when she was 3. When she was 10, her family moved back to the St. Louis area and she has been here ever since. She was married twice, the second time at age 80 after her first husband passed away. She has 10 children [7 stepchildren], 25 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren. Her family agrees that she loved all her children like they were her very own.

Stepdaughter Pat Brown said, “It seems like she’s been in our life forever. We just love her. She’s our mom and she has always treated us that way. It doesn’t matter if you are a ‘stepkid’ or not.”

Mary Craden with her family

Craden’s cousin, Paul, who recently turned 90, shared, “She’s still smart as a tack, isn’t she?” He couldn’t stop talking about Craden’s big heart and how well she loves others. “She’s always been there for me, for everyone in this family. I love her very much,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Craden said her love of life keeps her spirit young. Her favorite hobby is dancing and she loves Tony Bennett, but she confesses that she doesn’t like to listen to current popular music. “Today, when I watch ‘The Voice,’ the contestants sound like they are howling, not singing!” Craden said. She also explained that she is not too excited about the technological advances that have been made in the last decade. “I have a smartphone but I can’t seem to learn to handle it. I hate it! It fuzzes up my brain.”

She said the secret to a long life must have to do with genetics because, “I don’t do anything the experts say to do. I only eat junk food, I don’t drink water and I never exercise! I don’t feel like I’m 100, I feel like I’m around 70.”

Although she has had two heart attacks and two cancer operations, she said it doesn’t bother her at all.

“I feel great! I pushed for 100, so I’m not too sure what I should push for now, maybe 105,” Craden said with a laugh.

Craden said what she has learned from history is to “be yourself and always do what’s right.”

As for the next generation, she shared, “Always be honest and do everything that you’re told to do by your parents.”

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