Globe-trotting centenarian fondly recalls her world travels

Rita Turner’s smile lights up the room. The Clarkston woman is celebrating her 100th birthday today with family and friends.

Clarkston resident Rita Turner is turning a century old, but you wouldn't know it.

The energetic, vibrant woman could pass as much younger.

Turner partly credits her healthy upbringing on a Washington wheat farm near Wilbur for her longevity.

"I grew up on a farm where we had our own garden with vegetables. We didn't have anything with preservatives, and we had home-canned food. I was very healthy growing up," she said. "I don't know why I've lived so long. I'm lucky, I guess."

Despite one "bad year" in 2010, when her husband and two daughters died in separate incidents, Turner said she's lived an amazing life full of adventure.

The globe-trotter has resided in many states and lived overseas.

She quit traveling long distances about two years ago, but as Turner sat in her apartment at Evergreen Estates, her face lit up when she recalled her adventures. She's visited the Caribbean, Turkey and the Panama Canal.

She went to school to become a nurse, but after a short stint at a hospital, she gave up the gig for many years, trying her luck as a flight attendant for United Airlines.

"It was fun, but it wasn't a career-type of employment," Turner said.

Once she met her husband, Glen, in 1941, her life became a whirlwind of states and countries.

Glen was in the U.S. Air Force, so the family moved a lot. They lived in Idaho, Montana, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oregon.

"It just seemed normal to me," Turner said. "We traveled base to base."

Those travels eventually led the couple - now with five children - overseas. After six months apart from her husband, Turner was able to join him in Germany.

"She traveled to a foreign country with five kids in tow," said her daughter, Mardiese.

The sixth child was born in Germany, later followed by a seventh.

"We go by numbers, not names," Mardiese said with a laugh.

Turner was excited for the change of scenery.

"I was so thrilled to get to go and be with my husband," she said. "It was a country I had never been to before."

On the weekends, Turner and Glen would go sightseeing, sometimes with the kids. They visited Holland and Denmark.

After a few years in Germany, the family moved back to the United States, later being whisked away to Japan after Glen was once again transferred.

"We went over there on a ship," Turner said.

Again, the family spent a pleasant time, taking in the culture of another foreign country.

They later returned to the United States and lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Spokane, before settling in Clarkston in 1965.

Turner was not too fond of Clarkston at first, but it became her home.

"It was OK with me," she said. "I can't say I thought it to be great."

Having taken a refresher course for nursing while in Colorado, Turner spent about 10 years as a nurse at Tri-State Hospital before retiring in the late 1970s. She picked up where she left off, traveling yet again to France to reunite with a Danish-born exchange student she got to know while he attended Clarkston High School. Turner had seven children, five of whom are still living. She has 18 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

She's one of the last to bear her maiden name of Kunz, Mardiese said.

"It's been a very, very happy life from the beginning to end," Turner said. "I've been very fortunate in every part of my life."

Today, Turner will be surrounded by family and friends for a birthday celebration in Post Falls that exceeded her early expectations.

"They've planned too much," she said with a slight roll of her eyes.

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Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294.

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