A house along De Garmo Street, between Harps and Alexander Streets in the City of San Fernando, turned into “Party Central” on Saturday, April 25, for a special lady with a very special birthday.
Anna Eileen Kjar turned 102 that day, and not even the coronavirus pandemic was going to stop her family from celebrating the special occasion.
Daughter Kathy Kjar said they were initially planning a big party with a 1920s theme. “She’s always had parties, she loves gatherings, bringing people together,” Kathy said. But the pandemic threw all those plans by the wayside.
Granddaughter and caretaker Wendy Wolfe said Kjar was “feeling really sad” about that, so they turned the occasion into a card campaign, and eventually into what they had on Saturday: a drive-by party.
Car after car, some decorated Hawaiian style or with flamingos (Kjar’s favorites), passed by in front of her house while she sat on her front lawn surrounded by loved ones — all wearing face masks— as well as a cake, presents and her “longevity elixir,” beer.
People shouted “Happy Birthday!” from the passing cars, and neighbors also showed up with signs to congratulate her.
Even officers from the San Fernando Police Department — blaring sirens and all — showed up to wish her a happy birthday through the patrol car speakers.
Kjar took it all in with a smile as she waived at the passing cars and thanked them. She was thoroughly enjoying herself, something she does every day, her family said.
From Iowa to San Fernando
Born in the small town of Atlantic, Iowa, Kjar came to San Fernando in 1945 along with her sister, who had married a man in the military.
She’s still connected to her roots. Once a month she gets a call from one of her childhood friends who’s 104, and now lives in San Diego.
Kjar, the only surviving sibling out of eight children, was a “Rosie the Riveter” working for Lockheed in the 1940s. She also worked as a housecleaner.
She was married twice and has four children, all of whom were born in the former San Fernando Hospital, along with 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.
The matriarch of five generations, Kjar was an active member of VFW 6213 in Sylmar, and served as the Women’s Auxiliary president several times. She also led the Voice of Democracy for the Auxiliary, visiting area schools and collecting essays from children about WWII.
She was a safety officer with the VFW, putting on bicycle license plates at Morningside Elementary School. Kjar also worked for the catering service at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center’s cafeteria. During the 1940s, she cleaned houses.
Loves to Party and Sing
Her granddaughter, Bridget Brager, describes Kjar as “funny and passionate,” someone who’s always singing.
In fact, she was part of the Red Hat Society that took part in the Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena, and was also part of a singing group that performed at senior homes and the choir at St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar.
Kathy said her mom enjoys going to casinos, and was actively traveling until about a year ago.
Other than being a little “hard of hearing,” Kjar’s in perfect health and still likes to do things around the house. Barger said her grandmother does the dishes sometimes, her own laundry and loves to make oatmeal for her family. And she will often sing while doing these chores.
Her motto, adds Brager, is “she doesn’t want to miss a minute,” perhaps because she’s lived through a whole lot.
Kjar was born when the Spanish Flu was still decimating towns all over the US and the world, World War II and the Great Depression, when she remembers eating onion sandwiches.
So she’s not bummed out by the pandemic she’s living through this time.
Whenever someone comes to the front door, Kjar gets up with the aid of her walker, puts on her mask (adorned with flamingos) and tries to maintain social distancing.
On Saturday, surrounded by relatives, neighbors and friends, it was hard at times to keep people from getting too close. That’s why face masks were essential for everybody.
Still, she loved the drive-by well wishes.
“It’s sweet for people to do this,” said Brager, who knows Kjar just wants to celebrate and be celebrated.
“She can’t believe people would come out for her. She’s just so appreciative,” chimed in Wolfe.
In fact, when she got up on Saturday, Kjar told her relatives “I’ve lived through two pandemics and I’m still going strong.”
Asked how it felt to turn 102? She simply said, “Great.”