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Our Valley: Watching the world change

Newhall resident recalls a century of history

Posted: January 23, 2009 9:51 p.m.
Updated: January 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Ida Newcomer, 102, Friday in her apartment at Summerhill Villa in Newhall. Newcomer was born in Birmingham, Ala., and has lived in the Los Angeles area since she was 15.

Ida Newcomer's life is full of history.

She lived through two world wars, survived the Great Depression and saw Los Angeles turn into a sprawling metropolis.

Newcomer is 102 years old.

She grew up in Birmingham, Ala., when segregation was a part of life, and Tuesday witnessed what she thought she'd never live to see - a black man sworn in as America's president.

"People felt they weren't equal," said Newcomer, who is white. "It didn't bother me because that's the way it was."

She speaks with the traces of a soft Southern drawl and is quick to laugh.

Until October, Newcomer lived in the Friendly Valley home she and her husband bought in the 1970s. She now lives in Summerhill Villa in Newhall and hopes to sell her house.

When she was about 15, Newcomer's family moved from their home in Alabama. Her father had been out of work, and they decided to start a new chapter in California. One of her brothers was already living in San Jose, where a doctor had recommended he move to deal with his asthma.

The family settled in Van Nuys, which she said was a small town at that time. She recalled driving along the coast and seeing fields of flowers next to the beach.

"I liked Los Angeles right from the start," she said.

"It's changed a lot. (But) everything changes," she said. "You either go along with it or you get lost."
She was 18 and taking night classes at the University of California, Los Angeles. It turned out W. Park Newcomer, whom she'd met at the bank where he worked, was also in the class.

"One night he asked to take me home, and then he just kept on from there," she said with a smile.

They were married in 1928. It was a marriage that would last 68 years, until his death at 94.

In 1930 her first daughter had just been born and the Depression was in full swing.

Her husband wound up losing his job as times grew tough.

"It was bad. It couldn't have gotten much worse, because people were killing themselves because they'd lost all their money," she said Friday. "That was a very dark time."

But as dire as things seemed, she said there was still hope.

"I expected everything to be all right, and it was. Here I am," she said, adding that a focus on her young children helped get her through those times.

"In those days a nickel was something, and if you dropped a penny, you picked it up," she said.

As America is in the throes of economic pain, Newcomer said all hope is not lost.

"You can get through if you make up your mind to," she said.

A Republican, she voted for John McCain in last November's presidential election, but remains cautiously optimistic about President Barack Obama.

"I think Obama's doing all right," she said.

"She said, ‘He'll make Congress behave,'" Newcomer's granddaughter Beth Stokes said.

Likening the country's government to a marriage, Newcomer said politicians need to learn to cooperate.
"We have to work together," she said, "or else we'll fall apart."

After all she's seen and lived through, Newcomer is still young at heart.

"I never dreamed I'd get this old," she said. "But I don't feel old."


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