Longtime Bakersfield resident Irene Randolph has a certain joie de vivre about her. She’s always ready with a witty joke, loves taking photos of her friends and truly lives life to the fullest. Even though I’ve known her for more than a decade and a half through the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club, I didn’t really know her life story.
Recently, on the eve of her 80th birthday, I decided to catch up with her and learn all about the woman behind the jovial smile.
Irene was born in Visalia in 1940, at a time when Bing Crosby ruled the airwaves, a gallon of gasoline cost only 11 cents and the Great Depression was finally easing up.
Her parents owned Young’s Marketplace, along with about a dozen stores in Visalia, Fresno and Bakersfield. As the only girl among four boys, Irene went on to have two sons and two grandsons of her own.
Even though she’s had many hardships in life, she always manages to find the humor in every situation.
“I was married twice. The first husband I was married to for 31 years. And the second husband, two years. They both died of cancer, so if you want to stay alive, do not marry me,” she joked.
For Irene, humor is just a part of life. She doesn’t consider herself funny, even though her one-liners often leave me in stitches.
On how it feels to have eight decades under her belt, the humble birthday girl said: “It surprises me that I’m turning 80. I didn’t think people even lived that long!”
In her life, Irene has been through several wars, earthquakes and now a pandemic. She remembers having to use ration coupons and doing whatever it took to survive.
“As a child during World War II, we had to draw the shades to keep it dark so that we would not be bombed,” she said.
During the war, Irene’s father helped feed the nation as a farmer.
The family moved to Bakersfield in 1958.
“I love Bakersfield, the people, the culture. It’s fairly diverse and one of the friendliest towns I’ve ever encountered,” she said.
Throughout her life, Irene has held myriad jobs. She’s had a real estate license, served as a notary public, earned a cosmetology license and was even a licensed pilot.
As an active senior, Irene meets regularly with friends since she lives alone and has no relatives in town.
“I post every day on Facebook to let people know that I’m still alive,” she chuckled.
When not baking her famous chocolate chip cookies, the spunky daredevil has gone zip lining in Puerto Vallarta, jumped out of airplanes more than once and rappelled down a cliff in Mexico.
She says the key to a long life is to just keep doing different things and keep learning, even if it means skydiving in your 70s.
“Just go for it,” she said. “That’s what life is all about. And as long as I’m above ground, I’m thankful.”
I believe God puts certain people in our lives for a reason. They encourage, teach and inspire us in different ways. If there’s someone whom you’d like to get to know better, reach out to them. We can all learn from the wit and wisdom of our neighbors. ￼
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Nina Ha.