SACRAMENTO – Shirley Allen was surrounded by family and met with applause as she blew out the large candles on her 102nd birthday Tuesday, Jan 17.
For more than a century, Allen has marked another year gone by, but she’s never taken one for granted.
“I certainly don’t feel 102. Where did all of those years go? I feel, maybe 80, but not 102,” Allen told CBS13 at her birthday party.
Born in 1921, life took her across California throughout childhood. Born in El Centro, she lived in Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Visalia and Sacramento, where she returned in 1986.
Her father was the general manager of Globe Mills, a booming industry that milled wheat and flour for 40 years. It was eventually bought by Pillsbury. The job moved their family all over, and even to Mexico City where Shirley then lived for more than 50 years. It was here she found and cultivated her passion for teaching.
“It’s my life. It’s what I like to do,” said Allen. “As a child, I would go to school, come home, and then I would teach the dolls what I had learned that day in school,” Allen said with a laugh. “It’s crazy, I know.”
She taught English to Spanish speakers for half of her life. She married her husband Jose in Mexico City, and there she founded an English-teaching academy called “The American School.”
To her students, she would say: “Educate yourself. Do what you want to do.”
But for Allen, a life teaching simply was not enough.
After moving back to Sacramento, Shirley took her own advice. She went back to school at the ripe age of 76 to earn her first degree at Cosumnes River College. Over the next 14 years, she would earn eight more.
The nine degrees are all hung in rows proudly on Allen’s bedroom wall, surrounded by a dozen more certificates of recognition. The degrees range from science, anthropology, education, Spanish and more from both Cosumnes River College and Sacramento City College.