The 100th time was the charm for former Navy cadet Marion Ritchie.
Family, friends and fellow residents at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport filled the community center Monday to give her a huge and heartwarming 100th birthday party and ice cream social.
Ritchie walked into the room, greeted by cadets from Gulfport’s Naval base, standing at attention and saluting her as she walked by.
“I’m speechless and overwhelmed,” Ritchie said. “I just don’t feel like I’m 100. I hope you all get a chance to be 100 and have a party like this.”
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Local officials proudly gave Ritchie formal recognition for her military service and active life over the past century. Proclamations were presented by Biloxi Mayor Andrew “Fo-Fo” Gilich and Gulfport administrator John Kelly, representing Mayor Billy Hewes. Letters of congratulations were sent from Gov. Phil Bryant and Sen. Thad Cochran. Honors also came from the Fleet Reserve Association, of which Ritchie was made an automatic lifetime member.
Rep. Steven Palazzo was in attendance to praise to Ritchie and her family, which has five generations of members serving the military. Her grandfather fought in the Civil War. Her father battled in the Spanish-American War. Her stepfather served in World War I. She was a part of the WAVES program (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II. And her daughter, Katie, service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
“Pretty much, you helped keep the world free,” Palazzo said about Ritchie and her family. He also gave her a gift of a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. “We owe you our freedom and our economic prosperity,” he said.
Ritchie began working at a Navy medical supply office in San Francisco after attending junior college, and then decided to join the Navy.
After serving three years, she asked for a discharge, got married and raised three children in Lafayette, California. When her children were grown, she began attending the annual reunions of her former WAVES colleagues. She met and befriended one who lived in Gulfport. After visiting her there, she became attracted to the area and moved there in 1998.
Just two years ago, at 98, Ritchie took a page out of former President George H. Bush’s book and parasailed with her daughter and granddaughter.
“Just because I wanted to,” she said of the experience. “I’m going again once the weather warms up.”
The retirement home gifted her with a special coin, a letter and a super-sized birthday card filled with signatures of her friends. She responded: “My cup runneth over.”