By Judith van Berkom
The first 100 years are the easiest.
On June 29, World War II veteran and Westboro Legion Branch 480 member Ida Crocker celebrated her 100th birthday. She said her longevity is a result of having a lot of friends and because she liked everybody.
“I had healthy parents,” Ida said. “I was the only one in the family that lived so long. My oldest brother lived to 91 years of age and we thought he was quite something at 91.”
Ida grew up in Thunder Bay with six siblings. She studied nursing, graduating in 1941 and worked in a military hospital in Hamilton to gain experience before going overseas. During World War II, Ida served as a nursing sister with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.
Ida served in England for a few months and was then sent to Italy for approximately two years.
“I got to like the Italian people. They’re the warmest people,” she said. “We had maids to do our laundry and they did our rooms during the day. We stayed in a 10-storey apartment building that was fairly new but had no elevators. The first day I was there, I left my watch up in my room. I had to walk all the way up again. I only forgot it once!”
“I got close to the people I worked with — we became good friends,” she said. “I enjoyed meeting everyone I met. I never met anyone that bothered me. I think most people felt the same way [during the war].”
Ida worked in three different hospitals in England, then Italy and later in England again (when the war was over in Italy but still on in England).
It was in Italy, in the city of Florence, where Ida met her husband, C.R. “Bob” Crocker, a Canadian soldier.
“He wasn’t too far away but they were in quite a big battle while I was there. It was quite scary,” she said.
They were posted back to England and married there. At the end of 1945, when they returned to Canada, they moved to New Brunswick, her husband’s home province. Ida was 25 at the time.
“Coming from Thunder Bay, New Brunswick was almost as far as Italy,” she said.
“New Brunswick turned out to be the most wonderful province after I met all the people there that [my husband] knew,” she added. “People from the west are the same. You feel you know them right away.”
After the war, Ida’s husband didn’t want her to work as a nurse. They had a nice, family life but they only lived in New Brunswick for a year. He worked for the National Research Council of Canada and was asked to come back to Ottawa.
“He didn’t tell me because he knew I liked New Brunswick so much. I cried when we left,” she said. “He was happy to come back to his old job here (Ottawa). In New Brunswick, he had to travel a lot to PEI and was leaving home all the time. Our daughter was born in New Brunswick just before we left, the only one born in NB. We had three daughters and one son — that kept me going.”
In the late 1970s-early 1980s, Ida and her husband became involved with the Canadian Legion, along with their next-door neighbours. They ended up leaving after a few months due to the smoking in those days. Ida didn’t rejoin the Legion until a year ago, making her the oldest, newest member. Doris Jenkins, her neighbour across the hall at the Perley Rideau Veterans’ Home, encouraged her to join. Doris was a WWII veteran and longtime Westboro Legion member.
Ida said she’s enjoying her current living situation at the Perley.
“I’m very comfortable here. It’s the best place to go when you’re old,” she said. “People are very nice.”
Looking back, Ida’s long life hasn’t been without its hardships.
In 1999, Ida lost her husband, Bob.
“My husband died around the same time I developed macular degeneration. He used to read to me every morning – The Citizen or The Journal,” she said. “I’d love to have someone in here. My dream was to own a house and have someone come and stay with me, and read to me. I knew I’d be a long liver.”
A few years later, one of her daughters, Elizabeth, who worked in Australia as a physiotherapist for 30 years, returned to Ottawa after she developed cancer.
“[My daughter] was ill for three or four years. The doctor in Australia didn’t believe she was sick, thought it was stress,” she said. “I enjoyed having her here almost a year before she died. I adored having her with me in my condo.”
Elizabeth was buried at Beechwood Cemetery along with her brother, Robert, who died a year after from a massive heart attack.
“They were very close and thought the world of each other,” Ida said. “I think he died of heartache.”
But after 100 years, Ida describes her life as happy. Her eldest daughter, Barbara, lives in Osoyoos, B.C. and her other daughter, Margaret, lives in Kenora, ON. Ida has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and, over the century, she believes that she experienced the “best part.”
“I think I had the best part of the world, better than anyone here, now. The only bad part was overseas during the war. It was bad watching people die — always sad,” she said. “All the same, I had the best part of the world, I think, than anyone alive now. Everything was good.”