Hedy Sutulov may very well be Chilliwack’s oldest resident, and given how active a lifestyle she’s lived, it’s not hard to see why.
Sutulov is celebrating her 107th birthday today (Wednesday, Aug. 18) and it was only a little more than 10 years ago that she stopped doing one of the things she loved most – hiking.
She hiked to the top of Mt. Cheam at age 85 and went up again (though not to the summit) at the age of 90. She continued to hike until she was 95.
And to access those mountains? She owned a Jeep, naturally.
She had it for 22 years before a thief stole it when she was 101. It happened just a few months after she moved into her current home at Chartwell Birchwood Retirement Residence.
Sutulov’s lived in B.C. for more than 40 years and she calls them the “best” years of her life.
She was born in Vienna, Austria on Aug. 18, 1914, just weeks after the start of the First World War. Her father was in the army and was injured years later while fighting. He was brought back to Vienna and Sutulov vividly remembers visiting him and seeing the shrapnel in his back as her mother helped lift him out of the bathtub.
He died two weeks before the end of the war when she was just four years old. As an only child, Sutulov was left with just her mother and grandmother.
She grew up to become an X-ray technician and worked for decades in her field, first in Vienna and then in Quebec where she was brought in 1951 by the International Refugee Organization. It wasn’t the province she wanted to move to, but she had no choice.
“We had to go where they put us, so we landed in Montreal.”
Those first two years were not pleasant when it came to work.
“I had to work as a cook and my husband as a servant in an English household,” Sutulov said. “Son of a bitch.”
She was treated poorly, but after she and her husband saved up enough money, they both returned to their careers of X-ray technician and musician.
Sutulov has been married three times. Her third husband worked for the FBI.
“When he wanted to go to Miami, I wanted to go to B.C. because Miami is too flat for me – I want mountains. So he went to Miami, I went to B.C.”
And here she’s been for 41 years.
Her friend at the Birchwood, Leasl White, describes Sutulov in one word: feisty.
They met more than five years ago and have been close ever since.
“I love that we can share humour. I’m very fond of this little lady,” white said, adding that she’s “in awe” of her friend’s life.
Sutulov never had any children and was always a dog person. She had seven dogs in her lifetime and hiked and walked with all of them. Her last dog, Tina, died a year ago.
She has always preferred walking over driving and her words to younger folks is to walk. Pretty good advice from someone who hiked until she was 95 and only started using a mobility scooter about a month or two ago.
Sutulov had her driver’s licence until the age of 104. She’s a handywoman and has even done some electrical repairs.
Her years of working with X-rays have damaged her hearing and voice, and left her skin with radiation burns. As a result, she had a facelift in 1966 and since then performs a 15-minute facial routine every morning to prevent wrinkles: wash hot, wash cold (no soap), apply cream and then tap and massage the face.
Sutulov has very few wrinkles.
She enjoys the piano, opera and knitting. She’s knit 25 pullover sweaters and 16 or 17 cardigan sweaters for herself – each one takes about six months to complete.
When asked if she thought she’d live to see another birthday, she responded with confidence.
“Well, I started the pullover (sweater) yesterday, I have to,” she said with a smile.
“So when it nears her birthday every year, we rush out and buy more wool,” White said.
Sutulov has plans to spend her 107th birthday with her nephew, who she says is like her son.