The Model T was born the same year as Edythe Kirchmaier: 1908. And like that famous Ford, Edythe is making automotive history of her own. In January 2013, she got her driver’s license renewed at age 105; it’s good for another five years.
Coincidentally, Edythe learned to drive in a Model T. “My uncle had a farm in northern Ohio, and when I was a teen, I would go up every summer to visit and he would let me drive it around the farm and on the dirt roads.” But she didn’t actually get her driver’s license until she moved from Chicago to Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, whom she met at work – they were both social workers; she was his supervisor. They realized they needed more than one car, so she got her own (bringing the household total to two Fords) as well as her license in 1939. “It was simpler back then. They asked a few written questions. I never took a road test. They just assumed I could drive.”
Edythe and her husband would take a lot of road trips over the years, driving back and forth across the country as well as circling Canada, to see family and for leisure. “I never drove across country by myself, but we shared the driving.” Well, except for the motorhome they had for a four-month trip after they retired to see national parks and monuments in the U.S. “I never drove that motorhome; it was too big. I just sat there in awe.”
She has never had a traffic accident or citation – not even a parking ticket. “No marks on my record, and that’s why the last two times, when I was 100 and 105, I said, ‘Do I have to take a road test?’ and each time they said, ‘No, you have a perfect record.’ So, they consider me a safe driver.”
Edythe was forced to take the wheel more often when her husband said it was time for him to hand her his keys permanently, following some small glitches in this driving skills. “He said, ‘You take over. I’m not going to drive anymore.”
She thinks about how her husband came to her with the understanding that he shouldn’t be driving anymore, and believes she too will know when it’s time to hand over her own keys. “I know that when I lose that confidence in myself, it’s time to stop.”
These days, her driving is limited to around Santa Barbara, except for every Tuesday, when she drives 20 miles to the city of Golita, where she volunteers with Direct Relief International, which provides medical assistance to those in need following a disaster or in situations of poverty and beyond. “To me, it’s a humane organization, and they’re so fast to get help out. They go all over the world,” explained Edythe, about the charity close to her heart. It was at her recent birthday party thrown by Direct Relief that she learned she’s the world’s oldest living student from the University of Chicago.
Regarding all the attention she’s receiving for her various “oldest living” titles, she said, “I feel so humbled and really don’t deserve all this, just because I’m the oldest at 105. It does kind of overwhelm.” But what she doesn’t find overwhelming is the task of driving. “It gets me places faster. It’s a freedom. Before long I will have to stop driving and I think, How will I get around, because I belong to a lot of different things and am very active. How to decide what’s next is what I think about.” But for the foreseeable future, she intends to keep enjoying that freedom. “My doctor thinks it’s great. He says, ‘You’re good for another five years,’ said Edythe. “I’ve never had anyone say I’m getting too old to drive.”
Everyone at Ford and Ford Social would like to congratulate Edythe on this unbelievable milestone! And to help celebrate the occasion, you can participate in her 105th Birthday Challenge. She is trying to get 105,000 “likes” on Direct Relief International’s Facebook page, so light a candle on what could be the largest virtual birthday cake ever!
And one last thing: How exactly has she maintained such a spotless driving record for all these years? We asked her for some driving tips:
1. “Know the rules of the road and obey them.”
2. “Don’t be in a great hurry. Know ahead of time where you’re going and how much time you need to get there so you don’t have to rush. I see cars sailing past me, but I wouldn’t have as good of control if I went that fast.”
3. “You have to check your eyes and ears, so that you can see well enough and hear well enough for sirens and other noises.”
4. “You have to be cool and level-headed.”
5. “A bad thing is when people can’t see over the steering wheel or they’re too far from the brake or gas pedal. Make sure you have a car you fit into comfortably.”
6. “What bothers me more than anything else is when someone swoops around from in back of me and then goes in front of me, then drives a little ways and does it to the next person.”
7. “Before I start my car, I check everything. I walk around and look at the tires and wheels so I won’t get on the road and have a flat.”
8. “Once I’m in the car, I adjust my seat, the mirrors and everything before I start driving.”
9. “I have a handicap sign now, so I can park as long as I need to, but before then, I religiously checked my time, so if I was in one-hour parking, I made sure I wouldn’t get a ticket. If you can’t do your errand in an hour, then don’t park in an hour spot.”
10. “Enjoy driving!”
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