Rebecca Irwin is the first to admit she has lived a very full life.
The South Surrey senior, who celebrated her 100th birthday amongst a large group of family and friends this past weekend, has had no shortage of adventures in her lifetime, visiting nearly all seven continents and spending several years raising her family overseas.
Despite all that she has experienced, Irwin is still bewildered by the milestone birthday that is upon her.
“Unbelievable,” Irwin said, when asked how it felt to be celebrating 100 years. “I can’t believe I’ve lived this long.”
Born in Illinois on June 23, 1915, Irwin’s family moved around the southern states, following her clergyman father to Kentucky and finally Indiana.
When she was 24 years old, Irwin moved to India to embark on missionary work. Because it was during the Second World War, ships were unable to travel through the Atlantic, so Irwin took a train across the U.S. to San Francisco, where she boarded a cruise ship destined for Bombay. Along the way, it made stops in Hawaii, Japan, Manila, Singapore, the Penang Peninsula and Sri Lanka.
“It was such a lovely way to enter the Orient and get acquainted, it was very gradual,” Irwin recalled, chatting from her room at Westminster House.
Prior to starting her missionary work in India, which included health and literacy education for aboriginal groups, Irwin took part in rigorous Hindi-language training in northern India, where she met her future husband, Hugh, a Nova Scotia native.
The two were married in 1941 and spent close to 13 years in northeastern India, where they raised three daughters – Ann, Ruth and Maureen.
Irwin said her fondest memories of her time spent in India were the relationships she and her family built with the “fascinating” people they met there.
“There were such interesting people,” she said. “You become friends with them, and you do things together. You have your ups and downs and your tragedies and celebrations. For many years after I wrote to people we met there.”
Upon leaving India in 1953, the Irwins spent a few years living in Portland, then made the trip to the small town of Enderby, B.C., where Hugh took the role of town pastor.
“It was a really good place to go, because it was so small and we could get acquainted right away and the kids could fit in,” Irwin said.
The family later moved to South Burnaby, followed by East Vancouver, where Irwin was heavily involved in launching a social outreach program for seniors in the community.
Upon Hugh’s retirement in 1976, the couple moved to Crescent Beach, where they joined Crescent United Church – the site of Irwin’s birthday celebration Saturday, which included more than 100 attendees from as far away as Florida, Texas, Colorado and Edmonton.
Looking back on her life of 100 years, Irwin expressed gratitude for her many travels and experiences around the world.
“I’ve had such a wonderful life, such a full life,” she said.
“When I was growing up in a little town in Indiana, I never dreamed there was such a world out there. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”