La Jollan centenarian Jean Lisle reflects on her wonderful life
Jean Lisle is a woman who knows her facts. And she has about a hundred years’ worth to keep track of. The La Jolla resident, former journalist and (as of Aug. 6) a centenarian, can recall details from her early years in news production, her passion for sailing, the dramatic way her youngest daughter entered the world and more. She sat down with La Jolla Light ahead of her 100th birthday at her family’s Mt. Soledad home.
She said she was born in Iowa, specifically Marble Rock, Iowa on Aug. 6, 1918, and recalled that her parents were both educated. She named their colleges and degrees. She described the makeup of the house she was born into, complete with the laundry facilities in the basement.
Growing up, Lisle (nee Reis) and her family moved from place to place as jobs permitted during the Depression. She attended different schools, but spent the last two years of high school at Roosevelt High School in the west end of Des Moines, and had many good friends there, she said. After graduation, she looked into options for continued education.
“My dad’s income wasn’t all that great at that time (and it would have been challenging to) send someone to college, but my grandmother was able to help me. I went to Iowa State and was very interested in home economics. While in that program, I liked the writing program and its journalism part. I knew there were other schools that had more journalism programs, so we looked for them,” Lisle explained. “We decided on the University of Minnesota. In the journalism program, one of my assignments was to (cover activities on the) agriculture campus, which was in St. Paul, a few miles away by trolley ride.”
She also pledged a sorority, and lived in the sorority house her senior year, before graduating in 1939.
After graduation: “My dad met some gentlemen, who were starting a news magazine, and mentioned I had studied home economics and journalism and would be perfect for it,” Lisle recalled. With editorial offices across the street from the printing center, she said the job was a good way to see the whole process.
In the meantime, she became house mother for her sorority. “We had these socials on Friday nights and we would invite a fraternity over. My girls had a favorite guy in the classes they were in (named Wendell), but he was a little older than they were, so they said he’d be a good one for me to date,” she said. “We eventually agreed and sure enough, we liked each other pretty well, and after a year-and-a-half we got married.”
Wendell was a football coach and got a job back in Iowa, so the two moved home and Lisle worked one week a month at her magazine job.
After her grandmother died in the 1940s, Lisle’s parents (her grandmother’s caregivers) moved to San Diego for work. Her father met a superintendent of schools and encouraged Wendell to coach on the West Coast. “He applied for three schools, one in San Diego, one in Oxnard and one in San Bernardino,” Lisle said.
By this time, the two had a daughter, Judy, and another on the way. “My doctor said I would be late (in my delivery) and I had time to get to California and have the baby there,” she said. Her husband was hired at a school in San Diego, so the family-of-three prepped for the drive of almost 2,000 miles.
“We drove a little bit each day and we got as far as Las Vegas when I started to feel different. By the time we got to San Bernardino, I knew I wasn’t feeling right. We decided to stay the night instead of trying to get to San Diego that night,” she said. “But at 1 a.m., I knew it was time to go to the hospital. We drove down to San Diego, but I didn’t know where the major hospital was. I remembered visiting La Jolla and liking it there, and I knew there was a hospital there, so we turned where (the freeway sign) said La Jolla.”
In the early hours of that morning, daughter Veeda was born at the Scripps Hospital and their affinity for La Jolla was secured.
In addition to working, the family embarked on “a lot” of sailing in the decades that followed. “We started with one sabot, but that wasn’t enough because the family liked to race. We joined a local yacht club in 1957 and were quite active for many years,” Lisle said.
After living in a few different coastal communities, the Lisles moved to the Mount Soledad area in 1960, and Veeda graduated from La Jolla High School.
“In 1977, we bought a boat and cruised the ocean. We did a cruise to San Francisco and back with another couple. It was quite a challenge, but we enjoyed it. There was one night of stormy weather, but the rest was lovely,” Lisle remembers.
In their retirement years starting in the 1980s, the Lisles were active with Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church. Wendell passed away in 2006, yet Lisle remained in their La Jolla home until a recent move to an assisted living facility. Her daughter still lives in the house.
When asked to what she credits her sharp mind and longevity, she quietly smiled and asserted one last known fact: “Good genes.”
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