Pure Golden

By Paul Maryniak

Meet three inspiring Valley seniors living and loving life to the fullest

Constance Lillie: Centenarian

Many numbers could benchmark Constance Lillie’s life – 18 presidents, two world wars and 10 decades among them – but they would not reflect the math that helps define her as she begins a second century on Earth.

The numbers that matter are much closer to the heart of the longtime Mesa resident – who turned 100 on February 24.

Three daughters, one son, a foster daughter, 48 grandchildren, 63 great grandchildren and 20 great-great grandchildren. And hundreds of pages of memories her children lovingly committed to five CDs and distributed to that far-flung clan.

In part, those journals tell the story of the world around her: “Going from the horse-and-buggy days to the jet age; from the make-it-yourself days to the push-button computer days.”

But they also are recollections of her own life: “Wash days with pans and tubs of water being heated on the stove… Saturday baths in a round tin tub; cars that had to be cranked to start the engine running.”

Constance Elvira Nilson was born on February 24, 1918, to Swedish immigrant parents who had settled in Salt Lake City. As a teenager during the Great Depression, she and her sole sibling – a brother who died years ago – grew up in a family whose motto was “Whether it be old or new, make it over and make it do.”

She met her late husband, Randall Lillie, at a dance school. They married in 1938 and moved to Mesa in 1964, settling around University and Mesa drives for a number of years before moving to east Mesa.

While he worked as a loan officer and then a bank manager in Sun City, she stayed home and raised her children. “She always wanted to be a mom,” says daughter Annette Lunt.

But she also pursued other interests while the kids were at school and while she wasn’t caring for her husband in later life – first for the injuries he suffered in an accident and then during a struggle with cancer.

She cared for neighbors in need and those confronting a traumatic situation. “There were a lot of Jell-O salads that she made,” says Karen Johnson, another daughter.

But most of all, she loved to write. She had learned shorthand in school, which she put to use at times for elders in the Mormon Church and also when she made out Christmas gift lists and didn’t want her kids to know what was on them. She wrote letters to childhood girlfriends and she wrote to her grandchildren as well.

And then there were the journals – at least 15 bound books containing photos as well as written recollections of her life.  She wrote about “the aroma of fresh baked bread coming from the oven” – the same oven that would “warm our feet on cold winter days.”

Time has robbed her fingers of the dexterity she needed to sew, cook or even write. It hasn’t cost her sense of humor.She likes to joke about wanting to go to her piece of property in Utah when she’s done living at the Jones Family Care Home in east Mesa.  That property, she said, has a headstone with her name on it.

And her secret to her long life? Constance Lillie doesn’t hesitate: “Ice cream, lots of ice cream.”

Marilynn Smith: Golf Hall of Famer

PebbleCreek Golf Resort in Goodyear has a great deal to boast about. Forty five (soon to be 54) holes of champion golf at the Eagle’s Nest and Tuscany Falls Golf Clubs; a vibrant 55-plus active adult community; and the well-respected PebbleCreek Ladies’ Golf Association.

Recently, the Arizona Women’s Golf Association (AWGA) named the facility the Host Club of the Year in 2017 for the second time.

Yet for all of the exceptional qualities PebbleCreek offers, its real treasure is found in a home roughly half a mile from the Tuscany Falls grounds. For there resides a legend, who in 1950 joined 12 other women in the creation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). This year, it will showcase the world’s greatest golfers in 34 events with total prize money of $68.75 million.

“When we started the Ladies Professional Golf Association at Rolling Hills County Club in Wichita, Kansas, there were 13 of us, playing in 13 tournaments,” says World Golf Hall of Fame member Marilynn Smith.  “Babe Zaharias was our leading money winner that first year, earning $14,000.”

From her early years in Wichita, Smith was an athlete. “I was a pitcher, coach and manager of a boys’ baseball team at age 10, 11 and 12,” she says.

Had it not been for an untimely four-letter word drop in front of her mother after a bad day on the diamond, Smith might have made history as a ballplayer in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. “She washed my mouth out with soap,” Smith says.

Luckily for the golf community, her father told his wife, “I guess we’ll have to take Marilynn out to Wichita Country Club and teach her a more ladylike sport.”

From there, Smith never looked back. She claimed three consecutive Kansas Women’s Amateur victories in 1946-1948, and while attending Kansas University in 1949, an NCAA Inter-Collegiate Title. In the professional ranks, she made an indelible mark not only as an LPGA star, but as an ambassador of the game and a pioneer for women in sports and society.

“I have had a blessed life,” she says. “Golf has allowed me to travel to all 50 states, 37 countries and meet six U.S. presidents.”

Smith’s record stands as a testament to her superb play, compiling 19 wins including two major championships: the Titleholders in back-to-back campaigns in 1963-1964. “That was my proudest moment, beating Mickey Wright in a playoff in 1963 at Augusta Country Club,” she says. “I remember she gave me a hug on the 18th hole, after my one stroke victory 72 to her 73.”

The early days of the LPGA were more difficult than a 200-yard, one-iron carry over water to an upfront pin. “We played from the men’s tees, which stretched at that time from 6,250 yards to 6,900 yards,” she says. “At one event, it had been raining and the course played close to 7,250 yards. Many people did not want us to succeed, but we knew if we played good golf and shot lower and lower scores, fans would come out to watch us.”

It was that determination from the 13 cofounders that inspired successive generations to take up the game, push back against inequality facing females in the workplace, and champion women’s rights.

“I think that is the biggest change from the golf perspective over the years; women are now accepted in the game, and the chauvinism of the country club has mostly gone away,” says Marilyn Reynolds, PebbleCreek Ladies’ Golf Association president. “Marilynn Smith is an amazing individual and is one of those responsible for changing the game. I remember meeting her when she drove her car past me and I saw the license plate LPGA13. I chased her down on my bike and introduced myself.”

Although Smith has been unable to play golf for 14 years due to knee trouble, her passion for the game remains, as demonstrated by her Annual Marilynn Smith LPGA Charity Pro Am. “This will be the 10th year,” Smith says. “The event raises funds for scholarships, awarded to young women heading to college. Last year we handed out thirty $5,000 scholarships.”

The 2018 Pro Am, to be held at PebbleCreek on Monday, October 1, features a scramble format with an LPGA Professional playing with four amateurs. And a day earlier, at the Pro Am’s Sunday tea, fans can meet LPGA stars and converse with Smith and other golf luminaries.

With the passing of 10 of the original 13 LPGA founders, Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Bauer Hagge continue to tell the story of their group’s achievements.

As for the game of golf, Smith believes the sport is in a great place.: “This wonderful family game is marvelous today, and is one you can play forever.”

Valerie Boman: Rock artist

Valerie Biberdorf Boman thinks Chandler and its residents rock. And for a decade, the Chandler woman has been showing her appreciation with rocks.

She paints and decorates rocks, then leaves them by homes, parks, businesses and wherever else she thinks her creations might brighten someone’s day.

For the last year, she’s heightened her effort by organizing others to do the same under the moniker of “Chandler AZ Rocks,” which she calls a “community-building effort to spread joy and happiness” throughout the city.

“There is no profit in it for anyone – sounds hokey, but that’s really what it is,” says Boman, who has even left rocks in hospital parking lots, hoping people who “maybe just had chemotherapy and needed a lift” will find them.

She says her campaign “is spreading like wild fire” and even has gone international in a way. “I began years ago by leaving a sunflower-painted rock everywhere we travel, with the website info on the back of it and encouraging the finders to contact me with updates,” she explains. “One was picked up in Denali Park, Alaska, by a young Czech couple. He brought it to Shanghai and Moscow for pics as part of the fun, and it now rests at their home in the Czech Republic.”

Boman says her “lifetime of art-related projects” inspired her rocking effort. “It was natural for me to go from hiding sunflower rocks in our travels, to hiding all types of rocks everywhere else,” she says. “I saw it as a way to put a smile on faces, encourage people, brighten their day and enlist them to join me in the fun.”

Forget asking her to estimate how many rocks she and her followers have left around town. “I have personally distributed many hundreds, but it would be hard to guess how many the entire group has placed at this time,” she says, adding, “I might do 20 in a week or I might do 100 in a week.”

She has no problem finding the raw materials for her effort. “The opportunities for finding the rocks are endless,” she says.

And the places her artists can leave their creations are also without limit – “local parks, church and business parking lots, in front of local stores and restaurants, rest stops and campgrounds… on a neighbor’s porch, given as gifts. It’s up to the imagination of the person placing the rocks.”

Indeed, there’s a certain spontaneity to her activity, especially since she keeps a box of her painted rocks in her Jeep. “There is really no decision and for the most part, it’s all random,” she explains. “On any given day while I am out and about, I may leave one in front of Sprouts, four at Veteran’s Oasis Park, two in front of Hobby Lobby, and one in front of the animal clinic. Whatever feels right!”

The only thing she hopes for in return is that recipients will at least spread the news of their gift. “Each rock has ‘Chandler AZ Rocks’ on the back of it, with encouragement to go to our Facebook page and join in the fun by posting photos. When people post photos of their finds, everyone shares in that small bit of joy, and it encourages the painter to do more,” she says.

And she thrills to the “pure joy and surprise and happiness” in those posts. “I have many photos of little children that have huge grins over the delight of discovering something like a rock that looks like a car,” she says. “Also, rocks have been placed at health care places, where people that are going through treatments find an encouraging rock that says ‘you are loved.’ It can change someone’s day.”

Boman doesn’t stop at rocks as gifts, thanks to the acre her home sits on in the Circle G Ranches neighborhood in Chandler. “Neighbors and friends call it the mini farm,” she says. “We have laying hens, and a massive garden, where we grow nearly all veggies and fruits. We plant over 400 tomato plants each year, and we also process all our bounty.

“We have grapefruit, oranges, lime, lemon, peach, nectarine, pear, apricot and plum trees, plus berries, beets, carrots, corn, onion, herbs, lettuce, kale,” she adds. “My friends bring their children and grandchildren over to show them where this stuff really comes from.”

And not surprisingly, “lucky friends are also the recipients of fun surprises like fresh tomatoes, jars of pickled beets, or jams. It is crazy and enlightening to see what one can with an acre – even in the desert.”

As for the rocks, Boman says “anyone that wants to join in the fun” is welcome. “In our group, we have all ages of painters, all skills and backgrounds, and some are just rock ‘finders and hunters,’” she says. “Painting the rocks is a perfect activity for birthday parties, boy and girl scouts, family get-togethers and neighborhood gatherings.”

Interested people can contact her on Facebook under Chandler AZ Rocks – CAR.