Dorothy Jean Kelly has lived in a lot of places over the years, from her hometown in Missouri to Japan to Hawaii to San Francisco to her current home in south Forsyth County, and this week, she’ll celebrate a major milestone with a party from one of her favorite places.
On Thursday, Oct. 8, Kelly will celebrate her 100th birthday, a milestone she said she never expected to reach, and this weekend, will mark her century of life with a Hawaiian Luau.
“I loved the Hawaiian Islands when I was there and always said I’d like to go back there to live, but I never made it, so here I am,” Kelly said, with a laugh.
Kelly was born on Oct. 8, 1920 – which she noted was during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson – in St. Joseph, Missouri, where she spent her early life until setting out after high school.
“After I graduated from high school, I went to Kansas City to work for North American Aviation, and that’s where I met my husband,” she said. “He was a pilot in the Air Force in Sedalia, Missouri.”
After two years of dating, Kelly and her first husband, Vance Milton Spivey, married in Biloxi, Mississippi and due to his career in the Air Force, moved to San Francisco, Virginia, Japan, Hawaii and finally New Jersey, where he died in a plane crash at McGuire Air Force Base.
After staying in New Jersey for about a year after his death, Kelly moved to Atlanta to stay with her aunt and uncle and eventually bought a house in Sandy Springs.
“I was in that house about 50 years,” she said. “From there, I came out and joined [my granddaughter Tonya Cohen and her family in South Forsyth], and I’ve been with her for four years, and here I am. So, time marches on, and I’m going to be 100 on Oct. 8, and I’m planning on living another year.”
After moving to the Atlanta area, she spent years working for Rich’s department store’s Lenox and Perimeter Mall locations before retiring in 1991.
“I worked for Mr. Rich and Rich’s department store for 25 years,” she said. “I was in the modern sportswear department, and I was top salesgirl for two years. I won two different trips: one to the Bahamas and one up to New York.”
Kelly outlived both her husbands – Spivey and Martin Kelly – sons Keith and Glynn Spivey and grandson Vance Michael Spivey and has two granddaughters – Tonya Cohen and April Galindo – three great-grandchildren –Alyssa Daniels (17,) Connor Hazard (16) and Jenna Boyce (9) – and two stepgreat-grandchildren, Noah Cohen (16) and Maya Cohen (14) who are still living.
Kelly said she has always lived an active life and only stopped driving at age 96, not too long after she quit doing her own yard work.
“I always cut my own grass and did my own lawn work,” she said. “I did that until I was 90 years old, and one of my neighbors came over and told me to quit cutting my grass because I was too young but that’s how I got my exercise.”
These days, Kelly said she still has responsibilities around the house being “the towel folder” but is still able to go out with friends to lunch or shopping and has made an annual habit of going to her friend’s lakefront cabin until taking this year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most of my friends have all passed away, and I’m still here,” Kelly said. “I have five good friends left, and as they all keep saying, ‘Kelly, you’re going to outlive us all,’ and the way things are going, it looks like it.”
She joked that she would be able to do more if someone put a motor on her walker.
When asked what tips she could give others who want to make it to 100, Kelly said she never expected to see 100 but felt that a clean lifestyle helped her reach the milestone.
“I never thought I’d get this old, but I just went day by day and lead a clean life, never smoked, now and then I would have a cocktail, but other than that, that’s it,” Kelly said, “and I guess I tried to stay the best of health I could, tried to eat right and that’s about it.”