In less than a week, Margaret “Mikki” Paul will be 100 years old.
It’s not too often that someone can say they’ve lived through an entire century. Born September 13, 1917, one year before World War I would end, Mikki can say just that. Although raised in New Castle, Nebraska, Mikki says she’s been living in North Sioux City, South Dakota, for the past 50 years.
Having been told about her upcoming birthday by a relative of Mikki’s, I had a chance to stop by her home last week for a brief visit. She and her cat Sam greeted me at the door. With a wide grin she invited me into her living room decorated with a plethora of Elvis Presley memorabilia. She told me she had a dog, but it was a bit of a fraidy cat and chose to hide behind the couch during our conversation.
Mikki had this energetic spirit about her when she spoke. She was direct and to the point, but she had a good sense of humor as well. When I asked if she had any big plans for her birthday, she shook her head and laughed.
“I’m just kind of hanging in here hoping I make it to my birthday,” she said. “Dee Sturgeon is giving me a party at the museum on Sunday, the 10th. I think the public is invited. They usually have cake and punch and everybody gets together. I never thought I’d be that old.”
In her day, Mikki added, not very many people lived past 70.
“If you lived to 75, you were ancient,” she said. “I never thought I’d live to be 100.”
Looking back through century-long life, it’s hard for Mikki to pin point certain historical events. She’s never really given it much thought until now. Sitting in her chair in front of the TV, she thought of a few occurrences that stuck out to her.
“I know Orson Welles when he had War of -- What was it? War of the Worlds? I know that frightened everybody! Everybody thought the world was ending and they were standing up waiting for the sky to fall.”
That famous radio drama about an alien invasion was broadcasted October, 30, 1938, and caused a panic among its listeners. Mikki was 21 years old at the time of the broadcast.
“I went through the second World War,” she continued. “My bother fought in that one. He was in the Philippines. When he got out of there I know he went to the train depot and he couldn’t talk. It was a long time after that he could talk.”
Mikki said she only married once to a man named Harold Paul — she was 16 years old. They were together for about 17 to 18 years before separating. Together, they had four children — three girls and one boy.
“My mother had three daughters and one son, too -- maybe it was inherited,” she said with a laugh.
At 100, Mikki says she not only has great grandchildren but great-great grandchildren as well.
These days, Mikki stays at home, trying to keep herself busy. In the past, she had made local headlines for her work as a Walmart greeter and as a ticket taker at Southern Hills 12 Carmike Cinemas. From the time Mikki made herself as a stay-at-home mom, she had been a worker. Long after the kids had graduated and left home, Mikki kept working. She was described as an “incredible gem” by employees for her attitude and work ethic.
You would think a person reaching their 100th birthday would want to relax and take it easy, enjoy retirement life. Not Mikki. She’s happiest when she’s working. In fact, her upcoming landmark birthday is the last thing on her mind; she desperately wants to go back to work. Not long after her 99th birthday, Mikki was instructed by her doctor to take it easy after it became increasingly more difficult for her to breathe.
“I miss work so much,” she said. “I’ve always worked up until the last year when the doctor said I couldn’t work anymore. I keep hoping I get well enough so I can go back to work.”
As a door greeter in the Singing Hills Walmart, Mikki earned quite the reputation. She had always dressed to impress and bonded with returning customers. Mikki had been a greeter for 25 years, earning herself a nice plaque that she proudly displays on her mantelpiece.
“I miss the people coming through the door -- they were so nice,” she said. “And the managers were real nice. I could greet the public with a smile and a hello.”
She had also worked as a projectionist and manager at various movie theaters, including the old Gordon Twin Drive-In. She remembered a time when the unionized projectionists went on strike and had an associate from the head office teach the remaining employees, including Mikki, how to run the equipment.
“All the theaters had to shut down,” she said. “We all learned the next day. Then the next night we were able to run our own show. As I was coming downstairs, the police met me at the bottom of the stairs and took me to the jail.
“I was fingerprinted! But then I got to come back and start the show. Everybody was still waiting in line at the door waiting for the movie to start. That was the biggest day in my life, I think. All those people were waiting for me.”
What’s kept Mikki’s work ethic intact after so many years? Well, she doesn’t quite know. All she knows is that she wanted to keep working.
“I wanted to do something,” she said. “I didn’t want to give up and quit like so many other people. I wanted to keep working. And I think that helped me live to be 100, because I was working. I still want to work.”
Simply enough, Mikki enjoys working.
“What I enjoyed most is having something to do and being able to greet people,” she said. “I was the first one at the door so I had to be presentable. I always thought I looked neat and nice.”
Mikki would be driven to work by her daughter most days, wearing her Walmart vests. She’d often start work early as well and always wanted to look presentable. She did this for 25 years.
“Some days I didn’t feel very good, but I still got up and went to work,” said Mikki. “After I was at work, I felt better. So I just kept going.”
For eight hours a day, five days a week, Mikki greeted customers with her signature smile. But these days she’s focused on trying to to get well and is hopeful that she’ll get to work again. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. Until then, Mikki has some advice for workers of all ages. It’s a motto she still lives by.
“Look your best and do your best.”