Sunnyslope resident Chrystal Wilder has seen a lot of changes in her lifetime, and as she approaches the century mark, she shared a little bit about her life, her adopted home of Arizona, and her advice for the younger generations.
Born in the Mississippi Delta in 1922, Wilder made her way to Memphis, Tennessee, and in 1941, she was in college on a working scholarship. Her assignment was to serve the football training tables.
“All of the girls, of course, wanted to do that,” she chuckled.
But then, on Dec. 7, she recalled that she was playing bridge with a group of friends when the news came that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. And everything changed.
Not long after that, she began working for the Frisco Railroad at the Yale Yards in Memphis, because “the people who worked at the railroad were drafted, and a lot of them went to the war,” she recalled.
“The troop train would come through there, and we knew that a lot of those that were there would not be coming back — they were headed for the war — which was very sobering.”
After the war, Wilder married a sailor and headed across the country to California.
“My first baby was born in the Navy hospital over in Coronado. That was before they did the bridge, and they thought I’d go into labor when I was on the ferry,” she laughed, “but I made it across. And then eight years later, I had the other one at St. Joseph’s hospital.”
Wilder and her family arrived in Arizona in 1948. First living in Kingman, then Flagstaff, and finally in Sunnyslope. She remembers living at the “city limits” in 1952 and the “little cabins” where people seeking tuberculosis treatment lived, and how much the landscape has changed since.
“When I moved here, this was a grapefruit grove and had orchid trees, and then the trees, we had to have them cut back because the limbs got old. And so now, in my yard I just have ornamental orange and a flowering plum. I don’t have any of the fruit trees.”
As the years passed, her daughters grew into adults and Wilder now has five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. And while she is an avid reader and enjoys a good game of Spite and Malice, or watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy,’ she found she needed something more. Which is where the Sunnyslope Senior Center comes in.
Originally opened in 1978, and expanded in 1997, the Sunnyslope Community Center shares the facility with the Human Services Department’s Senior Programs and serves as the hub of community activity. The community center features a gymnasium, large multipurpose room, classrooms, youth lobby, senior lobby, fitness center and more. Also sharing the campus is Sunnyslope Park, with a lighted basketball court, a playground, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits and a ramada.
“I’ve been going to the senior center for quite a few years. I don’t know how long, but when I first heard about it, I looked it over and I liked what I saw,” Wilder shared.
Maria Medina, the Senior Programs supervisor, says that Wilder is responsible for bringing mahjong to the center. Medina’s goal is to understand what her members need — whether social or physical activities — and then she tries to accommodate that.
Popular classes include Geri Fit, every Tuesday and Thursday, and the Low Impact Step class. Beginner conversation Spanish starts in June, in addition to My Story, My Art, a special grant class that is designed to have members write their bio and paint a piece of representative art.
“When Ms. Chrystal called, I asked her what she was looking for and she said ‘mahjong,’ so, I started with her and then I started adding more and more.”
“I went on a cruise one time and they wanted to know if anyone played mahjong,” Wilder recalled, “and I said, ‘Well, I’ve heard about it, so I’ll join the group.’ And people from other countries were playing, and we couldn’t talk to each other, but we all knew mahjong and we had a real good time.”
When asked if she has any advice for the younger generations, Wilder chuckled and said, “That’s a hard one to answer. I think that everybody should take advantage of trying to get an education, and use that education to improve their lives. And also, to get along with other people; to be friends with other people.”
“One thing I want to mention about the senior center…we meet people that we didn’t know before. We’ve become friends, and that is so important. As you get older, it is so important to know people that are sort of your own generation. We can talk about things that may not be common knowledge because, you know, it would’ve happened when we were younger. But I think the senior center serves quite a good purpose because we get acquainted with people who have similar ideas.”
Although she says that “it’s just another birthday,” and “you don’t have to make such a fuss,” the Sunnyslope Senior Center will recognize Wilder’s 100th birthday at a celebration Friday, June 24, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with games, giveaways, music, refreshments and door prizes.
To learn more about the Sunnyslope Senior Center, located at 802 E. Vogel Ave., in Phoenix, call 602-262-7572 or visit www.phoenix.gov/humanservices and click on the “Senior Services” link.