As 2013 comes to an end, I think about some of those who I wrote about who passed away. I first met Allene Wynn in 2012, when she was about to turn 105 years old. I sat with her in her living room with photographer David Crane and her enthusiasm for life and the Los Angeles Lakers not only struck me, but also readers. Her passion for the Lakers and my story garnered Wynn unexpected national attention. For her 105th birthday, Wynn was invited to a Lakers game and came face-to-face with Kobe Bryant. She reportedly told Bryant: “You guys haven’t been playing well enough to suit me.” She then told him to take of his sunglasses “so I can see you better.” Wynn passed away on Aug. 12, 2013. From my story (Daily News, March 20, 2013):
PACOIMA – As her 105th birthday approaches, Allene Wynn admits that time has nibbled away at some of the details of her life.
She struggles to remember bits and pieces of her childhood in Arkansas. She raised 10 children, but it’s difficult for her to recall how many grandkids she has. She has some recollections of working in a nursing home in Panorama City, but she can’t quite pinpoint the year she first came out to California.
Yet there are some things she knows as clear as day:
That a little bit of sugar on green beans or on oatmeal hasn’t ruined her health so far.
That she wants to live as long as the good Lord will allow.
And that if she met Kobe Bryant in person, she’d tell him straight out that he’s been playing a mighty weak game these days.
“I’d ask him why he ain’t playin’ no better,” said Wynn with a hearty laugh. “The Lakers are making me mad. If I was able, I bet I could win.”
Wynn has been watching the Lakers ever since Wilt, Magic, and Kareem dribbled and dunked their way to greatness at the Los Angeles Forum. She can rattle off facts about each player with an almanac-like precision.
She’s such a Lakers fan, that when she receives her newspaper each morning at the Pledgerville Senior Citizen Villa where she lives, she flips through the sports section, cuts out the photographs of Kobe, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher (until his recent trade) and others, and tapes them up to a wall of her apartment.
“Miss Wynn does not miss a game,” said Claudette Jones, the manager at Pledgerville. “Whenever the Lakers are on, don’t bother her. If they’ve lost, she’ll tell you exactly why.”
Born on March 27, 1907 in Nashville, Arkansas, Wynn is not only the oldest resident at Pledgerville, but she was one of its first residents when it opened in Pacoima in the mid-1980s.
A birthday celebration in her honor, as well as for all other residents born this month will be held on March 30.
“She’s a very caring person,” Jones said. “She loves to cook, and she’ll call when she wants to share.”
When people ask Wynn what has been the biggest change she’s witnessed in her life, she’ll say it’s a lack of love among people.
“People don’t have a natural affection for each other anymore,” Jones said Wynn tells people. “That is one of the things she has observed.”
Leroy Geter, the CEO of Pledgerville and president of the board of directors, said that while Wynn has likely witnessed many social and historical events, she’s more likely to offer a witty perspective, telling people she has spent half her life minding her own business, and the other half not getting in the business of others.
“She’s got a sense of humor, and I’ve grown to love her and value her as a member of the Pledgerville community,” Geter said.
On a wall opposite the one with all the Lakers clips, hang several awards Wynn has received for her community service.
“Those awards are a testament to her love and commitment to the community,” Geter said. “I wish young people could sit at her feet, and ask her to tell them some of those stories they could benefit from in terms of longevity and how to treat your fellow man.”
But a few months ago, Geter, Jones, and others said they worried about Wynn’s emotional health after her daughter, Dorothy, passed away. Dorothy Wynn, known as Dot, was Wynn’s oldest daughter, and a frequent visitor and volunteer at Pledgerville.
“She was a great person just like her mother,” Geter said. “She loved her mother, and her mother loved her.”
But Geter said Wynn’s zest for life, her love of the color red, her recipes, her Lakers, and her sense of humor have all been her saving grace.
“Don’t tell Miss Wynn she isn’t a Lakers fan and expect to live,” Geter said.
Wynn said she’s felt like she’s had a happy life.
Along with her awards hang dozens of photographs of herself with her sons and daughters and grandchildren, and even the kids of families she once cared for.
“I have grandchildren and more grandchildren,” she said. “I think there are some I haven’t even met yet.”
When she turned 100, Wynn said she didn’t feel any different than when she was in her 90s. Aside from a little trouble walking, Wynn only takes one pill a day for her high blood pressure.
She has no secret to living a long life, she said, except that she eats what she wants, likes to play Bingo and the scratchers, enjoys casinos and dining at Hometown Buffet.
She also loves to cook, especially peach cobbler and pound cake. She guards those recipes with her life, those who know her say.
“She eats all the wrong things,” said her caregiver, Anna Jean Robinson.
“Her favorite thing to eat is something sweet,” Robinson said. “She’ll put sugar on everything.”
“Well, if it ain’t done me no harm and I’m still here, I can still eat it,” Wynn responded.
And as for reaching 105, well, that’s just a number, Wynn said.
“I don’t care how old I am `cuz I’m not ready to die,” Wynn said. “I love life. I want to live as long as I can. I want to live as long as the Lord will let me stay here.”
And she’d like to meet Kobe and the Lakers for her birthday, not just to give them a good tongue lashing for the way they’ve been playing lately, but also to thank them for some exciting games.
“Kobe has too much on his mind,” she said. “He ain’t playin’ right, but you can’t blame him for everything.”