Lexi Sim-Clark on her 100th birthday.
by Brenda Vowden
Lexi Sim-Clark has marched to the beat of her own drum for the best part of 10 decades, and the Napier-born centenarian continues to do so.
Lexi recently turned 100 and now lives independently at Summerset in the Bay. She celebrated the milestone at the Taradale Club, with more than 90 friends and family members from all over New Zealand. A great-granddaughter flew up from university in Dunedin and a great-nephew arrived from Queenstown in a helicopter.
Lexi has come full circle, born at home in Napier on September 29, 1921. She was the youngest of four daughters.
"My mother had her hands full. When I was 2 and a half we moved to Wellington — that was my hometown."
Lexi remembers the depression well and says home included "an enormous" vege garden, a chook house and an orchard.
"Dad had an allotment — it was fantastic. We didn't have any money. Mum had to rely on vouchers for bread, butter and a bit of sugar. She always had a big pot of soup on the range and she shared it around. If we ever got any meat, she would make a stew."
When Lexi was old enough, her parents wanted her to go to college.
"So I went out and got an apprenticeship at the woollen mill. I went home and told them — I was so proud of myself. I was making men's trousers for the war."
In 1940, after four years working, Lexi "up and got married". She had just turned 19.
"I married a farmer and we had our daughter Irene."
Three years later Lexi married Gordon, a marriage that would last 57 years. He became an adult apprentice and built their home in Johnsonville. The couple added four more children to the mix.
"We started with three rooms and then added on another room at a time as we could afford it. The house was built in three stages."
Although Lexi described herself as "Mum at home", knitting and sewing all the children's clothes and doing her washing in an old copper, she was also instrumental in setting up a friend's business, making wrought iron frames, road signs and street names.
"They weren't straightforward," she says.
Lexi recalls household appliances being major breakthroughs in her lifetime, with the addition of a wringer washing machine, coal range and fridge replacing the copper, open fire and safe.
"Gordon got me a huge agitator for a present — it was absolute heaven. And then a Westinghouse fridge with a flat formica top with a chrome edge. I felt real modern the day we got the fridge. As far as I know it's still used as a beer fridge."
Lexi remembers many other changes, including "funny old cars" and steam trains that were replaced and advances in aeroplane design.
"I've been very fortunate and lucky enough to see all those changes. I can remember going to Khandallah on the train for cooking lessons with the windows down and getting covered in soot. We used to run through those tunnels and hoped the train wasn't coming."
At 89 years old Lexi met and married Ken, two years her junior.
"He was my toy boy. It was a lovely marriage. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for anybody."
The couple travelled extensively to Canada, where Ken had lived for 63 years, and on to the Rockies. They also had trips to England and Scotland.
Walking, gardening and knitting have featured high on Lexi's list of hobbies. And although she had a stroke a few months ago, Lexi she is not letting that hold her back. She says she still walks almost every day around the village.
"I can still walk quite a way and only need a walking stick. Sometimes my knitting hand gets a bit out of control. I've had to learn to write and knit again. I just try and try — it's about perseverance."
Lexi says she feels very lucky to have "got to 100", receiving more than 50 cards including from the Queen, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, the Governor General, Minister for Seniors and Stuart Nash.
"I had messages from all of Ken's family in Canada. They ring me every week — I feel very lucky."
Lexi has a simple philosophy about life and ageing.
"Every year has it's right place in the world — what we think was fashionable had its place. You don't think about it — you just get through it. It's like my age. I never considered how old I was. You accept what's given you. Good healthy living, fresh veges and never think about my age."