At 104

Vivian Bickford celebrates her 104th birthday at Broadway Mesa Village. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Vivian Bickford has known the secret to a long life since she was in third grade. 

As she turned 104 last Wednesday, Aug. 31, Bickford said she gives all the credit to believing in God and Jesus Christ.

“I thank God for giving me all of His time,” Bickford said. “Because I’ve had God and Jesus with me all my life since I was in third grade, guiding and protecting me.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles joined Bickford on Wednesday with some of her friends at Broadway Mesa Village assisted living facility to celebrate the momentous occasion.

Giles said he enjoyed listening to the centenarian regale him with stories of her life, tips for longevity and experiences as part of the greatest generation.

“She’s a very active person, a person of faith, a person who’s very outgoing and friendly,” Giles said. “I was delighted to be here and be inspired by her and I hope to be more like her.”

Bickford was born on Aug. 31, 1918, in the small town of Opheim, Montana, where her father owned 400 acres of farmland. 

Due to the market crash of 1929, the family moved to Spokane, Washington, to live with relatives. 

While going to college in Spokane for two years, she met a young transfer student. 

After locking eyes with him during a game of badminton, the young man would take Vivian out to the soda fountain across the street. 

“I just absolutely fell in love right then and there,” Bickford said. 

Cliff and Vivian spent the next six months together until they eloped in 1940 in Idaho.

Bickford said that unlike the State of Washington, Idaho doesn’t require a three-day waiting period before using a marriage license.

The couple planned to have a larger ceremony after Cliff had returned from the Marine Corps.

Two months later, she decided to follow her husband to San Diego and after a church ceremony and honeymoon there, Vivian lived in town while Cliff deployed to the Pacific Theater in World War II.

“He was overseas for three solid years,” Bickford said. “I never saw him for three years.”

After the war, the couple moved to Sacramento, had two sons, and built and operated a ski shop for 40 years.

Bickford said they traveled to ski locales across the country including frequent trips to the slopes around Lake Tahoe. 

Among all the locations she’s visited around the world including visiting

Europe, though without her skis, Bickford said she doesn’t have one favorite vacation.

“Every place I’ve been has always had some good and bad,” Bickford said. “And I seem to find the good stuff and remember it.”

Bickford remained married to Cliff for the “most perfect 71 years in the world.”

“It was kind of a perfect marriage,” Bickford said. 

After her husband’s death, Bickford lived with her son and his wife in Hawaii for 10 years before relocating to Arizona.

For the past four years at Broadway Mesa Village, Bickford said she’s enjoyed daily exercise and activities with the other residents.

But Bickford’s most favorite activity she’s helped revitalize may be God’s fate.

“I know He sent me here for a reason,” Bickford said.

The centenarian may be right, considering she’s helped grow the Bible study group among the residents. 

In 2018, Bickford said the group only had two people and now it has more than a dozen.

Bickford said her secret to a long life is a simple one but one she said you must do honestly and wholeheartedly: “If you just believed that Christ died for your sins and God will know it if you really mean it.”

“You can’t do it your way,” Bickford said. “Just turn it over to God.”

Teresa Hadley, life enrichment director at Broadway Mesa Village, said that in her time at the facility, Bickford has always put others before herself.

Hadley said the facility offers trivia games such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, and hands out “Crazy Cash” that residents can exchange for goods, snacks and drinks.

Although she’s competitive, Hadley said Bickford won’t hesitate to share her prize winnings with other residents.

Even for the birthday celebration, Hadley said Bickford passed out small sponge cakes with a label of the Lord’s Prayer printed on them. 

“It’s all about somebody else to her,” Hadley said. “She really wanted it about everybody else, not her.”

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