Carletta Stark can say she’s lived through two World Wars.
Born Nov. 1, 1918, 10 days before the end of World War I, she remains quite young at heart leading up to her 100th birthday, she said with her trademark dry wit.
“You know, it’s funny,” she said. “But I don’t feel old. I don’t think of age.”
She lives in Saugus, far from her birthplace of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her mother died of tuberculosis shortly after Stark was born. When her father remarried, the family moved repeatedly, at one point even making the jump across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii when she was 5 years old. Stark remembers that it took five days by boat to reach the Hawaiian Islands.
Growing up, she wanted to be a veterinarian, but those dreams faded away after her father was in a car accident and used most of his money to pay for medical bills and all other expenses.
“But I’d have made a good vet,” she said. “I’m not afraid of animals.”
When her father worked for Del Monte Foods Inc., Stark helped sell the brand as a spokesperson, “Miss Del Monte.” But then she met Henry, the man who would become her husband.
“He said to me, ‘You know, you need taking care of. I think I should take care of you,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘You think you can do it?’ He said, ‘Well, I can try.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll marry you.’ So we married.”
She married him at 19 years old in the decade following the Great Depression. Henry continued to find work, painting homes and working for an insurance business in Watts. But eight months after the birth of their first child, Evelyn, his work was soon to change following the attack on Pearl Harbor, serving as an air raid warden.
Stark stuck to her strong work ethic, raising a family and making sure they had the passion to work for themselves.
Over the last four decades, Stark has fastened her wit and sharp demeanor through different struggles, surviving uterine cancer, recovering from two separate fractures to her hip and Henry’s passing after almost 60 years of marriage.
“When he died, a part of me, a part of my life died,” she said. “But I didn’t sit in a chair and cry and grieve. I knew he’d expect me to carry on, and I did.”
To granddaughter Julie McMillen, Stark is the epitome of the “Hollywood grandmother.” Growing up, she saw Stark sew Halloween costumes for her grandchildren, bake birthday cakes and work with her community, volunteering for libraries. McMIllen has taken care of her grandmother in the years following her hip fracture.
“She was that grandma,” she said. “You have the holidays and Grandma’s full-on spread for Thanksgiving or whatever. Birthdays come around and you always got a homemade cake from Grandma. (She’s) just that person. She lived her life for her family for sure.”
McMillen and her family live not far from Elder Creek Villa in Saugus, where Stark now lives.
As she looks back leading up to her 100th birthday, she says life is about learning from mistakes and ensuring people take care of themselves and their belongings, rather than an obsessive “I want” mentality.
“If I had to live my life over again, I think I would still live the years I’ve lived,” she said. “I don’t look back on Depression and things like that as, ‘Oh, what a horror.’ I think that man can overcome some things. I don’t mean maybe you’d have everything you want in the way of luxury.”