Given a career choice of teacher, secretary, nurse, this Middletown lady made the decision

100-year-old Frances Stoutenborough served on U.S.S. Lejeune after World War II

MIDDLETOWN — It was the the late 1930s when Frances Rivers asked her parents, Johnny and Pearl Rivers, about her possible career choices after high school.

It didn’t take them long to recite the potential jobs for females at the time: school teacher, secretary, nurse.

Frances quickly dismissed the first two. She wanted to be a nurse, the right choice for you and, as it turned out, thousands of sailors.

Rivers, a 1941 Middletown High School graduate who served on U.S.S. Lejeune as a registered nurse after World War II, celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 3. Her bedroom — where she has stayed the last eight months — is lined with birthday cards, and a large banner that reads “100 Years Loved” hangs from her dresser at the foot of her bed.

On Friday morning, one week after her milestone birthday, she was asked the keys to living to be 100 years old. Frances Rivers, now Frances Stoutenborough, smiled at the question and replied: “I’m not 100.”

Her daughter, Donna Stoutenborough, 70, sitting at her mother’s bedside, quickly corrected her. “Mom, you are 100. See all those birthday cards.”

Not wanting to argue with a woman about her age, I flipped my notebook and let Stoutenborough continue.

“We have had a nice life,” she said quietly.

“It’s been a very good life,” her daughter added.

After graduating from high school, she earned her nursing degree from Good Samaritan Nursing College in Cincinnati, then served four years as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy aboard U.S.S. Lejeune that from October 1946 to August 1947 made four trips to the Pacific, from San Francisco to Shanghai and Tsingtao, China, and to Yokosuka, Japan.

Stoutenborough said her mother frequently talked about her medical career at sea. In fact, she still has a 20-page hand-written report chronicling her career.

Certain military veterans leave stories behind when they leave the service. Some military memories are best not relived.

But Stoutenborough “saw the good side of things,” her daughter said. “She didn’t see the bad parts. She wasn’t in a war zone. She helped people get better.”

When her Navy career ended because she wanted to get married and start a family, Stoutenborough returned to the area and married Paul Dean Stoutenborough. She worked in the office of the family’s business, Stoutenborough Electric.

After the business hired an office manager, Stoutenborough took a nursing job in the operating room at Fort Hamilton Hospital.

She retired from nursing, but renewed her license until her 93rd birthday. She always told her daughter she kept her license updated “just in case.”

Once a nurse. Always a nurse.

After retirement, Stoutenborough stayed busy by volunteering at Central Academy in the Middletown City School District. She also helped adults with their reading.

Her mother is “very healthy” and takes only a few pills daily, though she was quieter than normal on Friday, her daughter said.

As Stoutenborough stood at the end of her mother’s hospital bed, the pride was evident in her eyes. It’s a privilege to see your parent turn 100.

“What a very, very beautiful lady,” she said. “She’s still beautiful.”

Stoutenborough and her late husband, Paul, who died in 1978, have two children, Paul Daniel, 72, and Donna; five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. The family recently gathered for a five-generation celebration.

Stoutenborough recounted her mother’s life, then thought back to being raised by her parents, Paul and Frances Stoutenborough.

Or as she called them, “an officer and a gentleman.”

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