Celebrating 100 episodes of ‘Your Last Meal’ with three 100-year-old women

Feb 25, 2021, 5:14 PM | Updated: Feb 26, 2021, 7:39 am

At 100 years old, Seattle’s Eleanor Owen lives on her own in her big, old house. She drives, she’s not on a single medication, and she’s sharp, with an enviable memory. Her 100th birthday was in January and because of the quarantine, like so many others, she had to have her party over Zoom.

“I have 300 birthday cards, if not more, that I haven’t opened yet! They sent me 100 roses from which my son and I are now making wine. My son and my husband had done it when he was a kid,” Owen said. “If you were here, you would find an aroma in the house of something fermenting.”

The wine will ferment all year, and she hopes to have a lot of guests over to drink it when she turns 101.

“I suffer from an addiction called TSA: Thrift Store Addiction. I have 312 wine glasses. Nice people would say that I collect,” she laughed.

Owen has one of the most varied and fascinating careers of anyone I’ve ever encountered, with a Wikipedia page to prove it.

She grew up the daughter of Italian immigrants in New York’s Hudson Valley. She was extremely bright and graduated two years early.

“My first paying job was as a cub reporter on the Newburgh Daily News for $17 a week. I saved every penny and went to New York City and enrolled at The Traphagen School of Design,” she said. “I actually was fairly successful as a designer and costumer for modern dancers, primarily Merce Cunningham — I did all of his shows.”

Owen also acted and was cast in two Broadway productions and a few off-Broadway shows, and she directed children’s theater in New York until her husband got a job that moved them to rural Washington state, and then to Seattle, where she continued to teach drama. They had two children, and when he was a teenager, their son Jody started showing severe symptoms of schizophrenia. After Owen found a noose he had hung in the basement, she tried desperately to get him help, but he wouldn’t take medication and she could not get him hospitalized.

“A terrible tragedy took place. He took one of my husband’s guns, went to a tavern, shot up in the ceiling of the tavern, men jumped on him and the gun went off and killed somebody,” she shared. “A tragedy that can’t be undone. My son was declared innocent by reason of insanity. My first visit to Western State Hospital, he just wasn’t there. He could not return to reality.”

Her son remained in the psychiatric hospital for many years and, unable to focus on anything else, Owen quit her job as a professor at the University of Washington and connected with other parents who were unable to help their mentally disabled children. She started traveling to Olympia and meeting with legislators.

“My definition of ‘grave disability’ was turned into law,” Owen said. “Now, I did not know at the time that this was a difficult thing to introduce, get passed in both houses, and signed by the governor, all in one year.”

The same year, 1979, Owen and those parents formed the Washington Advocates of the Mentally Ill, which soon became NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI is still the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization providing support, education, and advocacy in 1,200 U.S. locations.

Owen went from newspaper reporter to costume designer, to Broadway performer, to the creator of one of the most significant mental health advocacy groups in the nation. Over the years, she has continued to fight in Olympia, where she became known as “the Barracuda.”

Her son, Jody, is now in his early 60s and doing well; he lives on his own, he works, and his medication is under control. He’s thriving thanks to Eleanor’s dedication.

We’ll leave you with Owen’s tip on how to age gracefully and healthfully:

“You have to keep your teeth! If you don’t have good teeth, you’re not going to be able to stay well.”

Learn more about Eleanor’s life and last meal by listening to the 100th episode of my podcast, Your Last Meal. I interviewed three, Seattle area 100-year-old women about life, food, and last meals.

Plus, I talk to IKEA about how the furniture store became synonymous with Swedish meatballs. And if you’re single, living alone, and loathe eating solo during the pandemic, the host of the podcast Dinner For One shares the story of how learning to cook for herself, post-divorce, made her feel whole again.

Text 100 to 98973 and we’ll text you the episode. Click here to listen, or listen where ever you get podcasts.

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

supply chain...
Rachel Belle

Start your holiday shopping now or risk supply chain issues

Now is the time to start holiday gift shopping because if you don't buy soon, supply chain issues may make it tough to get what you want later.
22 days ago
Rachel Belle

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Dick's Drive-In recently raised its base pay, as did Taco Time, which is now offering employees $20 an hour at select locations. How do they keep prices low and pay high?
23 days ago
Rachel Belle

Don’t like how you look on Zoom? Many young Americans are now getting Botox

More people are turning to Botox to get rid of lines and wrinkles, but is it safe? How does one age naturally in a youth obsessed country? Experts weigh in.
29 days ago
certified wildlife habitat...
Rachel Belle

Turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation will help you make your yard a habitable home for bees, birds, bugs and critters. And they'll give you an official sign!
1 month ago
Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein, pictured months after 9/11. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cherkin)...
Rachel Belle

‘You either got married or broke up’: 20 years later, a Seattle couple on falling in love in NYC in the wake of 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, Seattle's Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein were 22 years old and separately taking the subway into Manhattan when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This is their story.
2 months ago
dirty work...
Rachel Belle

New book ‘Dirty Work’ reveals psychological toll of working unsavory jobs nobody wants

A new book by Eyal Press called "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America" takes a deeper look at jobs no one wants to do.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Celebrating 100 episodes of ‘Your Last Meal’ with three 100-year-old women