A 95th birthday celebration fit for a queen

Dolores Turner turned 95 on July 8 and because of COVID-19 she could not see all of her family. She lives with her daughter, Bobbie Joe Gentry in Riverside. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Dolores Turner turned 95 on July 8 and because of COVID-19 she could not see all of her family. She lives with her daughter, Bobbie Joe Gentry in Riverside. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

If there were a person to write a guide to arriving at 95 years with grace — during a viral pandemic — it would be Dayton’s Dolores Turner.

On Wednesday, Turner turned 95 years old in quarantine at home with her caregiver and youngest daughter, Bobbie Joe Gentry. A grand family celebration was planned months ago but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t want to risk her getting sick,” Gentry said. “When she leaves this world, she’s going to leave the way Jesus wants her to, in her sleep, not from some virus. I don’t want her to go through that, not being able to breathe.”

Still, and not just by quarantine standards, Turner’s birthday was a reflection of a life well-lived. She sat in her new “queen” chair gifted by her children while eating helpings of Olive Garden lasagna, cutting into a two-tier cake and listening to her favorite song of all time, Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.”

The morning of her 95th, Turner said she intentionally looked in the mirror and took in her new age.

“First I couldn’t believe it,” Turner said. “I thought, ‘I reached that?’ Then I changed my attitude, and then I thought about how lucky and fortunate I am.”

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Born in Old North Dayton, Turner has lived through World War II, The Great Depression, the tuberculous outbreak, countless other historical events and is now watching the coronavirus pandemic take its course. During the tuberculosis outbreak, Turner lost her mother to the disease.

“She’s a fighter,” Gentry said. “She’s strong and she’s blessed. … One surgery she went through, they said she might not make it through. I said ‘Mother, if you make it through this surgery, I promise you, I will take you home and you’ll be in your home and I will care for you.’”

Gentry kept her promise, and the two have lived together for 11 years.

Dolores Turner turned 95 on July 8. In this photo, she was 14 years old.
Dolores Turner turned 95 on July 8. In this photo, she was 14 years old.

“(It’s) like we were bound to meet each other one way or another,” Turner said. “I don’t feel like (I’m) stuck here in the house. I think we’re more like sisters. I feel like we are very close.”

Before Turner got sick and needed surgery, she had not been to see a doctor in 50 years. Gentry said her doctors were amazed at her condition. Pre-surgery, the last time Turner saw a doctor was after giving birth to Gentry in her late 40s.

Though it can’t be proven, Gentry suspects it’s her mother’s good heart and kindness that has kept her full of life.

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“She’s an angel from Heaven,” Gentry said. “She’s for the underdog. She’s kind. She’s got a heart as big as the ocean.”

With no shortage of compassion for others, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought back real fears Turner had after experiencing the TB outbreak and other crises during her lifetime.

“I’ve been through a lot, and it’s hard to explain how you feel from time to time,” Turner said. “I wouldn’t know which way to start. I’ve been there.”

The mother and daughter pray every night in their home for anyone who has gotten sick with the coronavirus and for the whole country to get through the pandemic.

“It’s very difficult to try and lead somebody to do things that maybe they’re not used to,” Turner said.

Turner plans to remain in quarantine, for the foreseeable future, in her queen chair where she “feels important” and where loved ones tell her she is the most beautiful.

Until her 96th birthday comes around, Turner said “I’ll fight tooth and nail.”