On Jan. 23, 2020, Olive Lucille Colchagoff, aka “Miss Lucy,” turned 100 years old. The Light sat down with her and her children to learn more about the new centenarian and her lengthy life.
A resident of La Jolla for more than 50 years, Colchagoff said she taught preschool at La Jolla Presbyterian Church for 32 years, after a marriage that took her around the world. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio and attended the University of Toledo where she explored her love for languages — counting Spanish, Latin and French among her favorites. She met George Colchagoff on Christmas Day, 1938 at a glider field, and the two were married June 6, 1942 in Tampa, Florida in a military wedding.
George, an Air Force pilot who “loved to fly,” soon left to serve in World War II, explained daughter, Maya Seeley, as she flipped through photo albums showcasing her mother’s life. The name Olive Colchagoff, she explained, was quite a mouthful to say, so most people took to calling her Lucy, after her middle name and her beautiful red hair, which reminded many of comedienne Lucille Ball.
Many of the hundreds of photos Maya pages through, were those sent back and forth between George and Lucy during the war, and contain love letters inked on the back, the couple’s primary form of communication while separated. Most show Lucy posing in the hats she loved to sport. “She was always very stylish,” Maya said.
After George returned, he and Lucy moved many times as his career took them around the country and the world. One notable post had them in the Yucatán, Mexico, where George was an officer on the project related to helicopter testing and flying above volcano debris, and Lucy was the historian. “She wrote the whole thing down,” Maya noted, and her mother’s recordings were used for the documentary “Birth of a Volcano,” which chronicled the project in Parícutin.
The expedition, the first time any helicopter had gone above 9,000 feet — to prove the hazardous conditions near the volcano — was rife with adventure and memories for the Colchagoffs, as described by their son, Baron. “They slept between two pillars in a hammock,” he continued, and detailed a face-to-face jaguar encounter his parents endured.
George and Lucy continued their travels while George served in London (where Maya was born and named for their Yucatán adventures) and Paris, which enabled Lucy to further explore her love for languages. They called Chicago, Baltimore, Hawaii, and many other places home before moving to La Jolla in 1966 for George to pursue a Ph.D. from UC San Diego.
It was while in their home in The Village that Lucy obtained her early childhood certificate and began teaching preschool at La Jolla Presbyterian in 1972, working with the 2-year-old classes for more than 32 years. “Miss Lucy” became a figure in La Jolla, Baron recalled — and along with a job at the former Allegra’s Jewelry Store on Prospect Street and a volunteer position at the Scripps Green Clinic on Torrey Pines — she stayed busy working until nearly 90 years old, well past George’s passing in 1994.
With a lot to celebrate, Lucy posed for photos with her children and enjoyed treats baked by her nurse and caretaker. A “constant jokester,” Maya pointed out, Lucy laughed her way through her interview with the Light, jokingly admonishing her son with a furrowed brow or telling a joke but keeping the punchline a secret — “I won’t say it,” she exclaimed, sending the room into giggles. “Mom’s humor kept her young,” Maya mused.
Caretaker, Mila, also credited Lucy’s longevity to her positive attitude and love, adding “Lucy is strong-willed and happy to have her children visit her every day.”
A larger celebration took place Sunday, Jan. 26, when her children, many of her four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, their families and friends joined Lucy for a slideshow based on her photo albums and16-millimeter films preserved from throughout her century-long life. The party featured her favorite things: family, trains, the color red, and music, which Lucy hopes “never ends.”
When asked her thoughts on being 100 years old, Lucy smiled and said, “Oh, maybe less.” But when further prompted to consider if she’ll celebrate 110 years, her response was a determined “I wish!”
• LA JOLLA CENTENARIANS: This occasional La Jolla Light series features interviews with local centenarians. If you know a La Jollan who is 100 years old, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 875-5950.