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Grundy County Woman Celebrates 105 Years

Posted on Monday, July 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Is Irene Lee our oldest living resident?

Irene Wakeham Lee, who celebrated her 105th birthday on June 28, credits her longevity to good genes and the “good fortune of being born into a Seventh – day Adventist family” who taught her the principles of a healthy lifestyle. Her daily routine includes trust in God, exercise, fresh air, water, sunshine, and rest. She eats temperately. Lee has never
smoked or used fermented or caffeinated drinks of any kind, and stays
away from junk food, takes care of her daily needs, and enjoys helping her family with the responsibilities of everyday life. She delights helping homeschool Moises who is 10 years old. She has memorized scores of scriptures and hymns.
Lee was born in England, in 1912, to American parents who were temporarily working there. Her father was a minister and her mother a nurse, trained at the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium.
When she was one year old, her family returned to the States, where her father became a Bible teacher at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews College) in southern Michigan. Here, her literary ability began to shine as she worked with Lifeboat Magazine. After graduation, she taught in Ohio and California, and earned a master’s degree in French from the University of Southern California.
In December 1941, Lee sailed to Honolulu, where she witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I first thought the planes were American military planes practicing,” explains Lee. “But, we soon knew it was war. Schools were closed, and I took a job as a secretary at the Army base until they reopened. That is where I was first introduced to the electric typewriter.”
She spent the war years teaching at the Hawaiian Mission Academy. Then, in 1946, after a year of teaching at Pacific Union College in northern California, she headed to the Philippines to help re-activate the war-damaged Philippine Union College.
After a couple of three-year terms there, she joined a group pioneering Mountain View College, a new school Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines. She wrote of these early years in a book titled “The Mountain, the View, and the College” that was published in time for the college’s 50th anniversary in 2003.
While in the Philippines, Lee developed a course in oral English to help Filipinos learn to pronounce English correctly.
During her 1964-1965 furlough, Lee earned a PhD in linguistics at Stanford University. Afterward, she was called back to the Philippine Union College graduate school to train English teachers at the master’s level. In 1970, after 24 years in the Philippines, she returned to the United States.
Lee taught at Oakwood College in Alabama, and at La Sierra College in southern California, before officially retiring at 65. She then served as a volunteer English teacher at Antillean College in Puerto Rico, and at Weimar College. Her mother soon reached 100, and needed companionship. Lee quit teaching to be with her until her death.
Anticipating receiving another overseas call, she was instead courted by James Lee, a former missionary in Korea and the Philippines, whose wife had died the previous year. They were married in 1982, both 70 at the time.
The Lees moved to Tennessee to be with James’ son David, and his wife Ann, in the late 1980s, while David and James worked on a writing project. They returned to Loma Linda and spent five years in an assisted living facility before coming back to the mountain. Lee says James, who was going blind, needed more care than she could offer alone, and David and Ann welcomed them back. Lee remained with David and Ann after James’ death in 2012.
Lee remains active in her church, and proofreads church publications written by David. She has written several stories of the Beersheba Springs Adventist Church for the Herald.
Teaching a total of 46 years, she is still in contact with her students.
“I still have former students who contact me,” says Lee. “There are about on-half dozen I keep in touch with.”
To celebrate her 105th birthday, Lee attended her church’s Sabbath Pathfinder Day, where she surprised everyone by wearing her
Pathfinder Master Guide Irene-sown dress and sash from 1932. One final blessing – at the age of 105, Irene may be the oldest member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the world.
The following week, she was invited by workers at the Community Center for another celebration.
Irene Lee may be the oldest living citizen in Grundy County. Do you know anyone older than 105 who resides in the area? If so, please contact the Herald at 931-592-2781 or at