Residents of Oakmont of Valencia and loved ones anxiously waited for Mary Zimmerman to arrive to surprise her with a happy birthday song, a tune she has presumably heard for 102 years.
Zimmerman, who was born on Nov. 15, 1921, has lived a long life of overcoming hardships, raising children and being tenacious.
With three large balloons that encompassed her age, Zimmerman sat in shock at the front of the room, expressing gratitude for those who took the time to celebrate her. Those who know her describe her as religious, and this was demonstrated by her shifting the focus from herself to instantly praying for the people she knows and loves.
“She’s a very loving, very religious person, and she has a tendency of meeting somebody and then just blessing them and saying prayer,” said Diane Zimmerman, Zimmerman’s daughter-in-law who calls Mary “mom.”
Diane has known Zimmerman since she was 18 years old, falling in love with her son, Wayne, and celebrating every occasion with her until this very moment.
“She always welcomed me right away. We had a long life together. She’s been a wonderful grandma, and a wonderful great-grandma. She’s well loved by everyone,” Diane said. “She has a great personality. She’s a character. She has lived to be 102, so I’ve started listening to what she’s done.”
Zimmerman grew up in Texas, experiencing very rough times as a child during the Great Depression.
“There are many times when she’ll [randomly] tell me some stuff that that you’d never even suspect as a young girl,” Diane said. “She met dad, Ralph, they fell in love and moved to California and raised their kids here, and he opened a very successful tile and marble business.”
Later, Zimmerman and her husband moved to Hawaii for over 20 years to monitor their branch there, and when he died, she moved back to live in Newhall on her own until the age of 99.
A testament to her resilience is not only surviving a fractured neck twice and broken hip from falling, but in having a positive attitude despite being out of the hospital and rehab for only a month, according to Diane.
Two sons, five grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren later scattered across the country, Zimmerman is loved and admired by all for her resilience.
“She always made everything herself and was just very self-reliant. She is amazing. And right now, she can’t walk, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes — I think she’ll do it. She survived a broken neck at the age of 101,” Diane said.
Julie Hekkers, a family friend, has learned about Zimmerman’s life and appreciated every story told.
“I’ve known her for about five years, and she is just a very God-fearing, amazing, incredible person. She has incredible stories, and she’ll tell you about growing up in Texas and not having food and her whole family living out of one drawer,” Hekkers said. “She has overcome so much and is incredibly strong. She’s sassy, fun and a good time.”
Not only does Hekkers enjoy learning about Zimmerman’s life, but also taking her to enjoy her favorite pastime: shopping at Ross.
“She loves to shop at Ross. If you take her out, she wants to go to Ross. Before falling and hurting her hip, she would want to wander and would say, ‘You don’t have to walk with me.’ And I’d be like, ‘You’re 100 years old. I’m going to walk with you. What if you get lost?’ and she responds, ‘Then I’ll take the bus home,’” Hekkers said.
Zimmerman expressed gratitude for Hekkers and Diane and their efforts in putting her birthday party together.
“I learned to love at Oakmont, and all of the girls that work so hard. Julie and Diane worked so hard trying to put things together. I pray for them. I don’t make phone calls, they usually call me. I also have wonderful [grandchildren]. They’re all very kind,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman’s advice includes abstaining from smoking, drinking and “all those drugs,” as well as encouraging people to be kind to one another.
“Be good to all the wives and husbands. All of the men and women who have done anything for me are covered by prayer,” Zimmerman said.
As for her secret to life?