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Longtime Valley resident turns 100

A lot can change in 100 years. If anyone can attest to the validity of that statement, Leon Thrasher can.

A North Bend resident for more than 78 years, he recently moved to Longview, Wash., to live with his son Melvin Thrasher and his family, but returned to celebrate his centennial birthday on Sunday, Jan. 15, at the Mount Si Senior Center in North Bend.

Though Leon's son Melvin, 73, said that Leon is physically healthy for a man 100 years old, he noted that with his age has come a bit of confusion and difficulty hearing.

"You have to remember that that's just part of life," Melvin said. "He's just running down."

Melvin, who lives with his wife of 53 years, Lucille, his 52-year-old daughter who has just returned to college and his 95-year-old mother-in-law, invited Leon to move to Longview about a year ago. "We knew it was time for him to not be living alone," said Melvin.

So, the man who was well-known around the Valley, moving to the area in 1927, traveled the two and one-half hours to settle in Longview. Part of the arrangement was that Melvin, not a bowler, would take up the sport to be able to bowl with Leon, who began bowling at age 70 and became an avid player.

Though Leon has recently retired from the sport, he left behind a legacy of bowling at least three games with scores of more than 220. Though he never achieved a perfect score of 300 necessary for admission into the Guinness Book of World Records, Melvin said that Leon was more interested in the value of the entertainment and the camaraderie.

"[That's] what was important to Dad," Melvin said.

"It was disappointing [to retire from bowling], but it was his choice because he knew his limitations," he added.

Melvin said that Leon now sleeps a lot, is on few medications for a man of his age, loves saying hello to people and sits in front of a big window in his home that faces the street so that he can wave at people passing by.

He still has friends and corresponds with many of them through letters, Melvin said. He also has reveled in his local celebrity status, which he acquired late in life on account of his bowling, enjoying it when people come up to him to recount his appearances.

He was interviewed by numerous local newspapers and television shows, but turned down an appearance request by the late-night talk show "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno because, as Melvin said, he had never heard of him.

"He was a great player for his age," said former bowling teammate Isabel Jones, 82. "We all thought Leon was all right."

The two-time widower was born in Nebraska in 1906 and moved to Idaho in 1911. He began working at age 9, earning a dollar a day driving a one-horse hay baler. At age 12, he began his career, which would span 55 years, at Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. He left school after eighth-grade to earn $2.35 a day clearing land that had been logged.

Leon moved to Washington state at age 21 to work for Weyerhaeuser's Snoqualmie site right after marrying his first wife, who passed away in 1956. He had two children, a daughter Lorraine (Clarke), 79, and Melvin. He has four younger sisters and a brother, each of whom are still living, with the exception of his eldest sister.

Leon is known for his gregarious personality and work ethic, becoming a popular and familiar figure in the Valley. His daughter Lorraine said that he made people feel special.

"I think it's his friendliness and his interest in people and he's outgoing [that made him well-liked]," she said. "[Plus], his laughter - he laughs from his toes."

A church-going man, Melvin said Leon volunteered at the Mount Si Senior Center for 11 years, always wearing a smile. When he left the center, he had to be replaced by three or four people.

"Dad is so free-hearted," Melvin said. "Dad always took everybody at their word.

"He's always been honest because the way I grew up, the Thrasher name was only as good as your word," he added.

In honor of his birthday, Lorraine sent out 86 invitations (along with open house guests) and had four cakes, one of which was decorated with a bowling theme.

"For 100, I think he's doing darn good," Lorraine said. "He still has his personality ... I wish that he maintains what good health he has now."

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