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Celebrating a century of life

100-years-young birthday girl Beth Russell celebrates her birthday with family and friends Feb. 8 at Duncan United Church. - Andrew Leong
100-years-young birthday girl Beth Russell celebrates her birthday with family and friends Feb. 8 at Duncan United Church.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Introducing children to the world of education is something Duncan's Beth Russell did when she began her Kindergarten teaching career in Cowichan at Duncan Elementary school.

And Russell, who just recently turned 100 years old Feb. 8, still holds that influence on the importance of the school system on those around her.

"You know you do have to work hard at some things," she said from her home, surrounded by birthday cards, family photos, and gardening article clippings.

"I had a grandfather who lived to almost 100 and he lived in Ontario and he always said to us how important it was to have an education," she said.

Both Russell's son, Doug, and one of her grandsons have had and are holding careers as teachers.

And Russell's grandfather's words rung true for the young gal who began her teaching studies at the University of British Columbia, where she received her teaching degree.

The Nelson-born gardening-lover taught for about five or six years on the main land before she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island.

"When we first got married, my husband worked in mines," she said. "We lived in the Cariboo for a very short time. He was looking to strike it big, I guess. The winters there were awful.

"It wasn't very pleasant and we never did make our fortune there either," she said with a chuckle.

She and her husband bought a house in Duncan together and eventually built their own house, where Russell still lives to this day.

"We just thought it was so nice here and beautiful and the climate was so nice, so we just stayed," she said. "I think a lot of people do that."

She fondly remembers her days as a school teacher.

"I just loved the young children. It was quite different back then you know."

Russell was accustomed to lots of students stuffed in one small classroom, as well as introducing little tykes to the school system for the first time.

"All they were used to was being at home with mom," she said, noting it was quite a frightening experience at first for some of her pupils.

She often runs into former students, although she doesn't recognize them as there were "hundreds" and they were so little when she taught them.

But they recognize her.

"I was out one night and this man spoke to me and finally I asked him who he was and he said, 'Well, you taught me Kindergarten,''" she said.

Russell was quite pleased with the hundred or so visitors who stopped by her 100th birthday celebration tea at the Duncan United Church.

Even her six great grandchildren were there to help a hand, she said

Russell's husband, Harold died quite a few years ago and their other son, Alex, passed away as well just a couple years ago. She has two grandsons.

Russell remains a member of many clubs in Cowichan, including the garden, rock hounds, and retired teachers clubs.

And she's got several friends from the church to ring up.

"It was a very nice party and it was big," she said of the birthday bash. "After all I'm going to turn 100 only once."

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