IT’S IN THE CARDS – After Jean Collins walked a mile last Tuesday, her friends wouldn’t let her leave the track until she had a chance to read her birthday cards. She turned 98 years young.                               – Photo by Bill Reynolds
IT’S IN THE CARDS – After Jean Collins walked a mile last Tuesday, her friends wouldn’t let her leave the track until she had a chance to read her birthday cards. She turned 98 years young. – Photo by Bill Reynolds

Prior to celebrating her 98th birthday last week, Jean Collins of Shelter Bay put in some laps at the La Conner High Whittaker Field track, logging a mile. 

Collins wasn’t alone for that early workout. She was joined by La Conner Senior Center Coordinator Margaret Hillard and several local friends, all of whom shared birthday greetings and ice cream afterward while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

Not even the virus crisis could mask their admiration of Collins. 

“She is gracious, funny and a role model of how age is only a number,” Hillard said of Collins. “Her story is inspiring, to say the least.” 

It is a story that begins on July 21, 1922 in Portland, Oregon. Collins’ birth year saw formal dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, the start of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, and the launch of Reader’s Digest magazine. 

Warren Harding was in the White House. 

Celebrities Betty White, Carl Reiner, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Jack Kerouac and Dorothy Dandridge were also born that year. 

Collins has become something of a celebrity since moving here in 1987. She has been a member of the Shelter Bay Chorus, La Conner Sunrise Food Bank volunteer and known for her mastery of the game Mahjongg at the senior center. 

Only shutdowns related to the COVID-19 have been able to slow her down – though not on the track. 

Collins reflected on her life as she circled Whittaker Field, pushing a walker with a built-in seat, but she paused only to field a phone call. 

As a child, she moved with her family from Portland to Seattle. She graduated from West Seattle High and would eventually meet and marry her husband, Frank, a UW mechanical engineering student. They were married nearly 69 years until his passing in 2015. 

They lived for a time at the university student village, then somewhat in the spirit of Kerouac were on the road in the early years of their marriage, first to Spokane, where Frank worked for Kaiser Aluminum. Then on to West Virginia for another aluminum company job. 

But they were drawn to the Pacific Northwest. Frank joined the Boeing engineering team while Jean hired on as a para-educator with Seattle Public Schools. 

After retiring in the early 80s, the couple, having raised four children – three sons and a daughter – began looking for a home outside Seattle. They considered Shelter Bay, but it seemed remote. 

“We came up to look around,” Collins recalled with a smile. “We drove through Shelter Bay, but I didn’t know if I wanted to live there. There wasn’t anybody around.” 

Ultimately, though, they decided upon the gated residential community. Others did, too, and soon the Collins’ were in a growing social circle. 
“The thing I’ve liked most about Shelter Bay,” she stressed, “is the people.” 

The Collins’ fell in early with walkers who looped a couple miles per outing, usually finding their way to Martha’s Beach. 
Walking has continued to be a part of Jean’s life. 

She told the Weekly News that she has put in steps to get in shape for sightseeing trips to Europe. She also took up indoor mall walking, taking great joy in strolling her great-granddaughter, Josie. 

“Now,” Collins quipped, prior to opening her birthday cards, “I push a walker instead of a stroller.” 

Later in the week she logged onto social media to question the choice of mascot for the new Seattle pro hockey team.

“Kraken?” she asked. “How ridiculous is that? Kraken is Scandinavian! It has nothing to do with the northwest United States.”

Pretty typical stuff for any fitness-oriented millennial sports fan.