What’s the secret to living to the age of 102?
That’s according to Ardis “Babe” Caldwell, who cele-brated her one-hun-dred-and-second birthday Tuesday at The Highlands as-sisted living facility on Norfleet Drive in Somerset.
Babe was sur-rounded by family and friends during the party thrown for her, and was alert and spry as she welcomed her loved ones from her spot in the seat of honor.
Born in 1912, she lived though an incredible amount of history transpiring in the world around her. For perspective, the year she was born, the Titanic sank, Woodrow Wil-son was elected president, and the Girl Scouts organ-ization was founded. World War I began when Babe was only two years old. The stock market crash that led to the Great Depression took place when she was a teenager.
Through it all, Babe was growing up here within the relatively peaceful boundaries of the Commonwealth, though her early life was not without its own difficulties.
“Her dad was a coal miner part-time; life could be a little rough,” said daughter Patty Ross. “That made her very determined. She was the only one in her family that graduated high school.”
That was in Williamsburg, Ky., where she was originally from before coming to Pulaski County. Babe had to struggle to achieve that goal in the classroom, but she did, graduating in 1932 and participating in activities like girls’ basketball.
“Her parents did not see the need for education,” said Ross. “In those days, the girls didn’t have education, but one of her uncles encouraged her mother to be sure that she got to school. She was too smart not to go to school; that’s the story I hear.”
In 1949, she moved to Somerset with husband Peyton Caldwell, who was an engineer with the state highway department, overseeing the construction of the bridges that were being built in Burnside at that time. As such, her two daughters, Patty and Jayne — who are no 73 and 76 respectively — grew up here in this area.
Babe quickly became part of the community.
“She was just always active with young people, working with the Girl Scouts and at church,” said Ross. “Anything we were in, she was in.”
That included following the Briar Jumpers of Somerset High School around when her daughters attended school there, riding the bus to activities and being in the mix. That was all part of her role as a mother — Babe remained a dedicated homemaker and stay-at-home mom.
Peyton died in 1980, meaning that Babe ended up living on her own for over 30 years before finally moving to The Highlands in July of last year to help make sure she got the help she needed with medicine and in case of emergencies.
“I think it’s wonderful. This is such a good place for her to be,” said daughter Jayne Adams. “They take good care of her here.”
To reach her current age, Babe stayed vigilant, eating well and doing exercises. She raised her family to do likewise.
“She always made us eat our vegetables whether we wanted them or not,” said Ross.
According to the daughters, reaching the milestone of 100 years of age — which was celebrated with a party at Old Town Deli a couple of years ago — was a goal for Babe.
“She always said ‘I’m going to live to be 100’ — that’s been a statement of hers for many, many years,” said Ross. “She always joked with Dr. (Jerry) Weigel, ‘You help me get there,’ and he said, “I’ll do my part, and you do your part.”
Babe herself doesn’t recall that as a goal — though she noted that is indeed something Dr. Weigel might have said — but said that being 102 now doesn’t feel any different.
“I’ve enjoyed my whole life, even with the odds slim,” she said. “I enjoy my grandchildren more. ... I like to be close to my family. I don’t want to be away from them.”
Lucky for Babe, she’s had 102 years to be around family — and lucky for her family to have been around her.