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Variety is the spice of life for La Jolla centenarian Marty Eisel

La Jolla resident Marthabell “Marty” Eisel
La Jolla resident Marthabell “Marty” Eisel says, “If we open our eyes, we can learn a lot of alternative ways of doing things.”
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

La Jolla centenarian Marthabell “Marty” Eisel has spent most of her life traveling. She’s explored the country by land, by air and by sea (well, river).

And from her travels, the resident of the White Sands senior-living community has been exposed to different types of people and cultures and learned that variety truly is the spice of life.

“You have to appreciate differences in people,” Eisel said. “I don’t like to think the way we do things is the only way they can be done. If we open our eyes, we can learn a lot of alternative ways of doing things. That’s the important part of anyone’s experience, to see how someone else does something.”

Eisel was born and raised in Kent, Ohio, and moved to Akron, Ohio, with her family after the Depression.

She attended the University of Akron and graduated with a degree in sociology. “At the time, I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but there were so many nurses that the school wasn’t going to start any more nursing classes. I decided the next best thing was sociology, which I never regretted,” she said.

Having been a Girl Scout as a child, she worked for the organization as an adult and moved to Providence, R.I., and became the executive director in the area, running camps for the Girl Scouts.

In 1947, she married Griffith Eisel and the two moved to Illinois, where they lived “for quite a while” until their divorce. The couple had four children: Susan, Kathy, John and Griff.

In the years that followed, Eisel — often with her best friend, Allie Okie (now deceased) — boated up and down the Mississippi River, drove a motor home up and down the West Coast and flew in several blimps.

“I had a brother-in-law who worked for Goodyear, which had recently decided that blimps were a good way to advertise,” Eisel said. “So I had several family members that were blimp fliers. ... That became a common thing we got to do. That was a very delightful part of my life. It was educational and influenced where my siblings would move. My sister and her husband lived in Germany to study their zeppelins before the wars. It was an interesting time.”

Before moving to La Jolla 40 years ago, Eisel and Okie scoured the country for a place to settle.

During their quest for a new home, Okie bought a boat and the two sailed the Mississippi. “At that time, there were a lot of pirates on the Mississippi, and we were warned to be careful because they would think nothing of climbing aboard, taking anything you had, and if you gave them any hassle, you wouldn’t be around long,” Eisel said. “So we were very careful of what we picked up and who we spent time with.”

Having not seen much of the world outside the Midwest as a youth, “it was my intention to see as much ... as I could. Thankfully, I had friends that liked to travel, so it worked out.”

She and Okie ultimately decided to live in La Jolla and moved to the Mount Soledad area in the 1980s.

“We liked the coast, and we drove up and down the [Western] coastline looking at various cities and so forth,” Eisel said. “I had a few requirements: I had to be able to get on an airplane and get back to Chicago when I needed to, and we needed to like the weather. When we found [La Jolla], it was a good place.”

Eisel moved to White Sands seven years ago. “I like the variety of people you meet here,” she said. “I’ve lived in places where you ate with the same people every day, and soon you know everything about them. Here, there are tables for two or four or eight, so I can meet new people all the time. The variety is amazing and the nicest thing here.”

Her home is decorated with treasures from her travels, along with family photos. In addition to her four children, Eisel has eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one on the way, most of whom will be at her 100th-birthday celebration Friday, Nov. 19, at Congregational Church of La Jolla.

Eisel said she appreciates that her children “are all different but there are similarities there” and that they, too, like to travel.

Daughter Susan noted, “People used to tell Mom, ‘Your children are so different,’ and she would respond, ‘From each other or everyone else?’”

When asked for the secret to her longevity, Eisel said her children laugh about it because she attributes it to “good liquor, good friends and a good sense of humor,” plus good genes. Smiling, she added, “I’ve had an interesting life, one that I would change in a few places, but not many.”

La Jolla Centenarians is an occasional series in the Light. If you know a La Jollan who is or is about to be at least 100 years old, email robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.