‘Ride with the tide’: La Jollan Shirley Helm continues to embrace change as she nears 100th birthday

Soon-to-be centenarian Shirley Helm moved to the Chateau La Jolla senior living community in 2014.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

La Jolla Centenarians:

For soon-to-be-centenarian Shirley Helm, life has been all about adjusting, and doing so with a positive attitude. The La Jolla resident will celebrate her 100th birthday on Saturday, Oct. 15, and credits her longevity to embracing life’s changes and finding happiness wherever she goes.

Helm was born in a small town in Illinois and intended to enter the workforce as a secretary. She worked for several years in St. Louis before meeting Murray Helm, who would become her husband. Murray was in the Air Force when the two married in 1951, starting Shirley on more than a decade of travel and life changes.

A photo from Shirley and Murray Helm's wedding hangs in her La Jolla home.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“It is very important in life to adjust,” Shirley said with a laugh. “I had to adjust to life as an Air Force wife and I had to adjust to new places to live, but I was happy in all of them. You have to have a positive attitude and ride with the tide. I think people live longer that way.”

During Murray’s service, the family lived in Mississippi, Germany, Portugal and Los Angeles, welcoming sons Murray Jr. and Frank and daughter Hilary along the way.

As for adjusting to family life, she had three brothers so was used to a full house and holding her own, she said.

After Murray got out of the service in 1962, the family moved to the central California town of Exeter (between Bakersfield and Fresno) and got into the farming business because the family home had an orange grove. So Shirley adjusted to the hands-on work of running a citrus grove.

“Oranges go through many stages before you get to eat them, and I enjoyed tending to them all along the way,” she said. “We had the packing houses and workers. We loved our ranch. We stayed there for 40 years. I enjoyed going out and picking an orange to eat right off the tree.”

After Murray’s death in 2003, Shirley stayed on the ranch and drove the tractor for years. But Murray Jr., a La Jolla resident, insisted Shirley be near family. So she moved to the Chateau La Jolla senior living community in 2014.

Keeping her green thumb, she took to planting flowers in pots outside her apartment and other hobbies.

Shirley Helm keeps a row of plants outside her home at Chateau La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“I like to arrange the flowers and do what they need, and they need different things at different times,” she said. “I also like to read and I volunteer at local hospitals. I knit little hats for babies. I think it’s good to have friends and hobbies.”

Healthy living is important to maintain a long life, she said. “I recommend fruits and vegetables and exercise. I try to exercise every day. Those things help a lot.”

“I believe in love and happiness and being friendly to people,” Shirley added. “I also think it’s important to be around younger people, too. I have seven grandchildren and I like to keep up with what they are doing.”

Shirley’s family is planning an outdoor birthday celebration for her on Oct. 15. In addition to the Southern California family members, out-of-town guests will include nieces and nephews from Illinois, Texas, California and Arizona.

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