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Jessie Kuttai celebrates 100 years of life

When Jessie Kuttai was born in Krydor, Jan. 23, 1911, the world was a much different place. Einstein was still working on his Theory of Relativity and Hitler was just a schoolboy.
Centenarian Jessie Kuttai celebrated her birthday along with her great-great-grandson, Matthew, 1, who shares the same birthday.

When Jessie Kuttai was born in Krydor, Jan. 23, 1911, the world was a much different place.

Einstein was still working on his Theory of Relativity and Hitler was just a schoolboy. It would be months before the first North American coast-to-coast flight, or before Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole.

Rock was something on the ground and Beatles were just bugs.

Women couldn't vote, nor did they have refrigerators in their homes. It would be decades before medical advances, such as penicillin, the polio vaccine and organ transplants.

But the biggest change in the last 100 years, according to Kuttai, has been the advent of computers and the Internet.

"A lot of things have changed," said Kuttai.

She said although life was harder in the early 20th century, she had what she calls a good life, and "never wanted for anything."

When asked which year she would like to relive, she has trouble deciding.

"To tell you the truth, I've had so many good years, I don't know which year I'd choose," she said, suggesting perhaps her first year of marriage to her husband, Joe Kuttai.

Jessie first met Joe when she was only 15 years old. She and her half-sister were out looking for cattle, when they decided they'd warm up in a house they thought was unoccupied. It turns out Joe, who had recently moved to the Highgate district from Trail, B.C., had bought a tract of land and was now living in the house.

Being young girls, they decided it wouldn't be prudent to go into a house occupied by a bachelor.

It wasn't until years later that Jessie and Joe struck up a relationship. By that time, Jessie informs me, Joe had already had a few girlfriends.

Jessie said she fell in love with Joe, who was nine years older than she, because he was a kind person.

"I don't think he ever had an enemy," she said.

When they were married, Joe's grandfather said they should promise each other to never go to bed without a kiss. The newlywed couple took his advice, swearing on the Bible that, come what may, they would never go to bed angry.

Jessie said it wasn't always an easy promise to keep.

"We were married for 54 years," she said. "Do you think we didn't argue?"

She added, "We all have arguments, but you've got to forget them."

Jessie and Joe had three children: two sons and one daughter. This was interesting because Jessie's father, who was Polish, had two sons and one daughter with his wife before she passed away. Jessie's mother, who was Ukrainian, also had two sons and one daughter with her husband before he passed away. When Jessie's father and mother married, they again had two sons and of course, one daughter, Jessie.

Together, Jessie and Joe enjoyed many trips and adventures. Joe's sister lived on the west coast, so they often went to visit her. They also travelled throughout the United States.

Sadly, Joe passed away in 1986. About 18 months before Joe died, Jessie recalls taking him home from the hospital, against the doctor's recommendations. The doctor said Joe had only hours left to live. But Jessie was adamant and took Joe home, where he lived for over a year, without medication.

"He kept saying he was living on love," said Jessie.

Jessie said she misses Joe every day.

"You sit there at night and just wish you could have a chat with him," she said.

Not that she's let it slow her down any. Jessie is still an active parishioner at St. Vital Church, is a member of the Catholic Women's League and is one of the founding members of the Battlefords Belles chapter of the Red Hat Society.

"Jessie was one of our first members," said Red Hat member Evelyn McKay, adding Jessie often accompanies the Red Hat Ladies when they make visits to Battlefords Union Hospital.

"When we go to Golden Years (the seniors lodge where Jessie resides), she always gets everybody up to dance," said McKay.

Jessie had another chance to dance when she came to St. Vital Church Saturday, thinking she was coming for a church supper.

Instead, she was surprised to see nearly 100 family members and friends had come to celebrate her 100 years of life.

Jessie has 13 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great-grandchildren.

The birthday meal included Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jessie's favourite.

"She can eat five or six pieces, no problem," said Roxanne Piché, Jessie's granddaughter-in-law.

Jessie enjoyed a dance with Errol Denton, her grandson-in-law, while a friend of the family, Jack Alm, sang and played guitar.

Jessie also had the opportunity to listen to musical performances by a few of her 17 great-great grandchildren.

Her most recent great-great-grandson has the distinction of being born on the same day as Jessie, a mere 99 years apart.

"I couldn't make it to her birthday last year because I went into labour," said Jessica Piché, the proud mother of one-year-old Matthew.

"I'm glad he got to meet her," she said, adding Matthew also has a great-great-grandmother on his father's side of the family.

The evening was a chance for people to share some of their favourite memories of Jessie.

Joanne Denton, Jessie's granddaughter, explained how Jessie came by her popular nickname, "Noni."

"My uncle Joe was trying to get me to call her Nanny, but I couldn't say it. I kept saying Noni," said Denton, adding the nickname soon caught on and everyone, including friends started calling Jessie Noni.

Denton recalls growing up on the same quarter of land as her grandmother, their houses only about 100 yards apart.

"She was always knitting something," said Denton.

She also remembers Jessie saving her from a gander that had seized Denton by the seat of her pants.

"She took the broom to him," laughed Denton.

And it might not be a good idea to wager much on cards with Jessie. "She plays a mean game of Kaiser," said Denton.

Father Greg Elder said although Jessie is not St. Vital's oldest parishioner, she is the parish's oldest acting parishioner.

"Her mind's still good, still sharp as a tack," he said.

Fr. Elder added besides her age, Jessie does have another distinction among his parishioners.

"She's our only parishioner who wears no socks, even in the winter," he said.

Claudette Balysky, borrowing a favourite saying of her grandmother's, said Jessie is "39 and holding."

One thing she'll always remember about her grandmother is how she would cut her hair with pinking shears and perm it herself.

"She's so self-sufficient," said Balysky, explaining her grandmother still does her own laundry, shops, carries her groceries home and cooks her own meals.

"She just learned of Ichiban a month ago," said Balysky, clarifying when she says Jessie cooks, she doesn't mean pop a meal in the microwave.

When Jessie asked her granddaughter about the chicken soup and received a demonstration, "she just couldn't believe it," said Balysky.

Grandson Michael Piché said he'll always remember his grandmother asking, "What do you know for sure today?"

Jessie's son-in-law, Arthur Piché, said, "She was really good to us."

He recalled a time before he married Jessie's daughter, Isabelle, when he took Isabelle on a trip to visit his folks in Gravelbourg.

"We were gone a day longer than we planned and she thought I'd kidnapped her daughter," said Arthur, adding Jessie, not knowing his parents' telephone number, phoned all the Piché's in the area.

Arthur also remembers Jessie's cooking, saying, "She was a good teacher, because my wife was a good cook too."

Willow Ranger, who is Jessie's eldest great granddaughter, and the mother of Jessie's eldest great-great-granddaughter, talked about how, even at her age, Jessie still participates in and directs many of the activities at Golden Years.

"She's a pretty cool lady," said Ranger.

Grandson-in-law Steven Cormons read letters of congratulation from the Queen of England, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Lt. Gov. Gordon Barnhart, Premier Brad Wall and mayors Ian Hamilton and Chris Odishaw, among others.

Odishaw also came to congratulate Jessie in person on her 100th birthday.

Some faces were missing at the party. Jessie is predeceased by not only her husband, but her son, George, her daughter, Isabelle, and her grandchildren, Gina and Neil. Her one remaining son, Joe, was unable to attend, as he lives in Duncan, B.C. and couldn't travel.

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