LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Gertrude Riling Cleaton will celebrate her 100th birthday on July 31, and she shares much of her history with the City of Lake Charles.
Cleaton was born in St. Patrick's Hospital, which was originally named St. Patrick Sanitarium. The $30,000 structure consisted of three floors and a basement and housed 50 hospital beds when it was completed and dedicated in March 17, 1908.
Cleaton was later baptized at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This was shortly before the fire on April 23, 1910, that burned down the cathedral and several city blocks of the downtown area.
Cleaton's father served as the mayor of Lake Charles, beginning the year that she was born. He was also a paving contractor whose company laid bricks in the Pujo St. area downtown.
Cleaton grew up in a home on Bilbo St. and later attended St. Charles Academy, Lake Charles High School and Vincent Business School. Following her graduation, she worked under Judge Moss. She worked for two years without pay as a form of internship.
Cleaton then began work at the Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court's office, where she served for 40 years before retiring as the Deputy Clerk of Court.
Cleaton's daughter, Teeter Cleaton Longtain, remembers her mother as a fast typer, an excellent writer and a woman who was deeply involved in the local legal system.
"When she was a little girl, the courthouse was being built, and the Southern Defender's monument was being built … She loves the legal system. If she had grown up in today's time, I think she would have gone to law school," Longtain said.
Longtain said Cleaton has only missed one election since reaching voting age. She said voting is a duty that lies very close to Cleaton's heart and that she always discusses her opinions and decisions with her family.
Longtain described Cleaton as well-informed and an avid reader who completes crossword puzzles as a hobby and who plays Scrabble every day.
"Her mind is still good. She's still with us … she walks with a walker, but that's more of a precautionary thing," Longtain said.
On Saturday, July 27, family members and friends will gather to celebrate Cleaton reaching the centennial mark. Longtain expects the members of Cleaton's sewing club, whom she often shared coffee and embroidery work with as a young woman, will honor her memory.
"She enjoys life," Longtain said. "That's one of the things she says, 'Enjoy life every day.' She never worked a day in her life that she didn't enjoy. She tells her grandchildren to pick a job that they enjoy so that every day is nice."
Cleaton has five children and is an active member of the Catholic Daughters of America.
When asked how she lived to reach 100 years, Cleaton said, "I don't know. It just happened."
Longtain said Cleaton never went on a diet and never smoked or drank. She now spends most of her time with her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.