Ethlyn Christensen is not a Gem County native. She has been here for nearly two decades, however, so when her friends gathered June 6 to celebrate her 100th birthday, you would have thought she was from among the founding families of Emmett.
Family, friends, and neighbors serenaded “Noni”, as Ethlyn is known to nearly everyone, with a honking, beeping, radio blaring parade past her home in east Emmett. Led by Emmett Police Chief Steven Kunka, a neighbor, dozens of cars and trucks formed a circuit through her neighborhood streets, making multiple passes in front of the beaming centenarian.
The parade actually was a little tardy. Noni turned 100 on Wednesday, June 3. That didn’t dampen the celebrating spirits of the paraders — some who were greeting her for the first time. Among the car cruisers were some residents who just heard about the milestone and wanted to express their wishes.
The idea of a parade was prompted to a small degree by the social distancing concepts connected with the coronavirus. The greater motivation was that Noni is a huge fan of classic cars and has quite a personal history astride a motorcycle.
Ethlyn Eileen was born over a century ago in Osborn, Kansas, to Lloyd and Elsie Gray.
The family moved to Long Beach, California in 1935, Ethlyn graduated from Wilson High in 1939 — and married the love of her life in 1940: Edwin Stanley Christensen.
They had three sons who are now deceased. She still does have her “daughter-in-love” Carol, her granddaughter, Lorri, her grandson, Dean and his wife Twilla, and their sons Christopher and Thomas and their families. Oh, and she also has eight great-great grandchildren.
Noni has lived a full life in her now 100-plus years — and then some.
About 50 years ago, she and Edwin invented “The Sky Hook,” a tool that helps people lift really heavy things. It is still sold all over the world to companies such as Boeing, Intel, Ford and General Motors, to name a few.
The inventive years with Edwin were mostly in the high plains of southern California — between Riverside and San Diego.
Noni recalls that she and Edwin started their married life together — just prior to World War II. Because of his machine work skills he was put to work stateside during the war. Some of those skills and interests rubbed off on Noni as well as she was always a hands-on worker.
She used to ride a Harley of her own. Off the bike and off the road, she handmade her own ethereally beautiful dolls.
After Edwin passed away, the Christensen family — many engaged in the family business — moved everything, including Noni, to Gem County.
“It is more like the country life we had at one time in California,” Noni said. “This is actually a big town compared to where we came from but things had changed there.”
Her family credits her constant positive attitude as the primary inspiration she has provided them over the years. A real zest for life.
She still has a sparkle in her eye and a mischievous grin. While gleefully watching her parade of the century, Noni remarked that her sister was “going to have a tough time besting this.”
Her younger sister, who still lives in California, will turn 100 next year.
Jeanne Huff, Idaho Press contributed to this story.