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Laura Van Matre

Mrs. Laura Van Matre: President sends birthday card.

NOTE: The following article originally appeared in the Monday, March 2, 1959, edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald.

Mrs. Laura Van Matre, who came west in search of better health, today matched the state of Oregon year for year in age when she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Mrs. Van Matre, who now lives at the Mennonite Home, insists that she is no pioneer.

"I didn't come to Oregon until 1887, when I was 27 years old," Mrs. Van Matre says. "Then I didn't stay long."

Her trip across the country from her home in Milton, Ill., in search of better health was via transcontinental railroad train, and she was accompanied by her brother.

"We came on what they called the immigrant train — you had to carry your own food," she says. "I think we left on a Tuesday and arrived at Portland on a Sunday."

On the trip she saw both cowboys and Indians for the first time, and it was the cowboys who were more frightening of the two to her.

"We had to change cars at one place, and a great lot of cowboys came into the train," Mrs. Van Matre recalls. "I thought for sure they'd kill us all."

Indians, too

"We same some Indians, too, the first I'd ever seen, but they weren't on the train, just alongside the tracks," she says.

She and her brother went to the Eugene area to settle, then went to California after about two years.

Eugene was then about its muddiest, according to the centenarian's description.

"When they drove horses pulling big wagons down Willamette Street, the horses' hoofs splashed batter on everything," she says.

After two years' stay here, she moved to California for a winter.

"It rained all winter there, too," she says.

Homesickness took her back to Illinois for a summer after her stay in a moist California, and she stayed there for two years.

It wasn't until 1907, when she and Oregon were 45 years old, that Mrs. Van Matre returned to the West Coast to stay. Then she lived in the Millersburg area until 1934.

She has lived at the Mennonite home since 1950.

Birthday greetings

The coincidence of her 100th birthday with that of Oregon brought letters from the President of the United States, Governor Mark Hatfield, and another note of congratulations was due from Rep. Charles O. Porter.

"News gets around," she said. "But I don't know how they found out about it. I've received cards from people in Florida and Texas — distant relatives I didn't know existed."

All of this she is taking strictly in her stride. She has received the recognition despite her attempts to avoid all publicity.

Still alert and able to take care of most of her own needs, Mrs. Van Matre is proud of her letters but hasn't flaunted them at all. President Eisenhower's letter came on Feb. 19, and she quietly tucked it away in a drawer. But she remembers that Gov. Robert Holmes and his wife sent her a congratulatory letter last year.

What did she think of her note from the President?

"It didn't puff me up any," she says.

END NOTE: The feisty Van Matre had plenty of pep left to burn. She celebrated another decade's worth of birthdays until succumbing June 25, 1969, in Albany, following a brief illness. She was Oregon's oldest resident at the time. (The article failed to mention the man who made Laura a Mrs.: Peter Van Matre, who died in 1921 at the age of 73.)


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