Lucy Hamm, one of St. Louis’ oldest residents, turned 107 Friday. She's just nine years younger than the oldest known person living in the world, Misao Okawa of Japan.
Hamm was born in Cairo, Ill., on Jan. 30, 1908. She moved to St. Louis in her 20s and has lived in the Tower Grove Manor retirement community in south St. Louis for 14 years.
Hamm is a feisty centenarian, with a flair for jewelry and a good appetite. When I met her Friday morning, one of the first things she said was that she’d been waiting for me for more than an hour and that she was hungry for lunch. (In all fairness, I was running late.)
Even at 107, Hamm is still healthy and gets around with only the aid of a walker. She walks from her apartment to the elevator, and from the elevator to the dining room twice a day to eat and socialize.
“I enjoy being around people,” Hamm said. “My husband died young — 58. And I just didn’t do nothing but work.”
Hamm started working when she was a little girl, helping her mother carry buckets of hominy to sell to the local hotels. As a young woman she worked in her brother’s mousetrap factory, and after she married she worked at a shoe factory.
Hamm ties that lifetime of work to her longevity, and offers work as her answer for what life lesson she’d like to share.
“I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt you to work. Work didn’t hurt me at all,” Hamm said. “But work never hurt anybody. It didn’t hurt me. I’ve lived all these years and I don’t have any complaints.”
Hamm also said she’s been happy most of her life, with one exception.
“I had a mean husband who was an alcoholic. That was my only bad thing,” Hamm said.
To protect her children and herself, Hamm left her husband and raised her son and daughter on her own.
“My son graduated from Saint Louis U and my daughter went to Wash U. So I’ve been thankful in many ways,” Hamm said.
Memories of Childhood
As a young girl 100 years ago, Hamm remembers playing make-believe with her 14 brothers and sisters.
“Naturally, we made our own toys. We’d gather up empty cans, wash them out and fix them like we had a grocery store,” Hamm said. “We didn’t have a lot of money.”
On one memorable occasion, Hamm swallowed a nickel and her mother made her stay home from school until they could get the money back.
“Monday morning comes, she took me to school and said Lucille won’t be coming to school until she passes the nickel!” Hamm said.
Nowadays, Hamm is more likely to swallow a beer than a nickel. She said she enjoys a good beer at Tower Grove Manor cocktail hours, but will occasionally opt for a whiskey sour. She’s known as the “sheriff” at the manor because she keeps the other residents in line.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.