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Air force veteran celebrates 100th birthday thanks to good genes

Florence (Flo) Huttala celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 5 at Chateau St. Michael's, Moose Jaw, surrounded by many family members.
Florence (Flo) Huttala holds a picture of her three daughters while sitting in her room at Chateau St. Michael's. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 5. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

MOOSE JAW — In 1923, eggs were seven cents per dozen, coffee was six cents per pound, a matinee movie ticket was 22 cents and hockey icon Foster Hewitt broadcast his first game.

That was also the year Florence (Flo) Huttala came into the world, born to parents Cummins and Alice Mathieson in Scotland on Feb. 6. Six years later, she and her family moved to a farm near Rockglen with just a horse and cow. 

After serving in the air force during the Second World War, she married Harry and they came to Moose Jaw, where they had three daughters. He died in 1973 after roughly 25 years of marriage, leaving her to raise the three girls. 

The family later grew to include nine grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.  

That extended family celebrated her centennial with a party on Feb. 5 at Chateau St. Michael’s.

“It’s just a day going by,” Huttala told the Express about her birthday. “I know (it’s important) … I just kind of can’t believe it. Well, I guess I feel 100.”

Huttala wasn’t sure why she had lived so long, noting she smoked at one point but quit years ago. She also enjoyed the occasional adult beverage — “I like Kalua,” she said — but hasn’t had many opportunities these days to imbibe. 

Having a dedicated group of companions may have contributed to her longevity. She made many friends while serving in the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force. A group of them remained close afterward and participated in eight reunions over the decades, which took them from Vancouver to Charlottetown and everywhere in between. 

“We would go to some city and take bus tours and they would show us all the interesting parts. I liked that. I wouldn’t mind doing that here,” Huttala said. “They (the care home) did take us on a bus trip to see the Wakamow Valley Christmas lights (last year). Of course, I was feeling younger then.”

The veteran took numerous pictures on those trips, which ended up in albums that one of Huttala’s daughters, Leona Froehlich, now possesses. Leona sometimes brings an album so her mother can relive those memories.

Based on everything that’s occurred during Florence’s life, it’s amazing she’s still alive, daughter Louise said with a chuckle. However, Flo’s longevity is likely hereditary because her mother lived to almost 102 and her younger sister is 82. 

“So, I think maybe some of us women will have a long life to follow with, but yeah, it’s amazing that mom (reached 100),” she continued. “If she hadn’t broke her hip (six years), I’m sure she still would have been on her own in her apartment.”

Florence used to live in Victoria Towers and was quite active, Louise noted. She was still busy even after she acquired a walker — “her wheels” — and rumbled to different places to complete several tasks, including Shoppers Drug Mart, the Co-op grocery store, Pharmasave, Giant Tiger and Crescent Park. 

Florence was “one hell of a mother,” and it’s great that she’s still alive, her daughter added. 

Some of the centenarian’s favourite memories include growing beautiful flowers in big flower beds, working evenings for roughly 20 years as a nurse’s aide at Providence Hospital, seeing the Royal couple and serving in the air force.  

“A different life started (after joining the military) and you were always busy doing something,” she said. “We always enjoyed ourselves. It was all with good friends. We (also) wore a uniform, so we didn’t have to worry about buying fancy clothes.”

One big accomplishment for Huttala was “just living,” while some of her preferred hobbies include bingo and card games, especially “Crazy 8s.” 

“Even my sister made me a deck that said, ‘Flo’s Crazy 8s!’ I thought was pretty nice,” she added with a chuckle. “I still got them somewhere.”

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