Lebanon woman celebrates 100 years of fortitude

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Dessie Davidson, described by her family as a tough woman who “doesn’t take crap from anyone,” celebrated her 100th birthday last month.
According to her niece, Nancy Bishop, she was born Jan. 22, 1923, on the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line and grew up working hard to help support her family since both of her parents died when she was still a child. While her first husband was away at war in the early 1940s, she learned welding and took up work at the Kaiser shipyards on Swan Island between Portland and Vancouver, Wash.

Dessie’s husband, Odus Davidson, holds a bottle of his white lightning moonshine in an undated photo. Contributed photo

She returned to Arkansas after the war and fell in love with Odus Davidson.
“We got married one day (in 1947) and came to Oregon the next,” she said. “We just took roots here and have been here ever since, but I still call Arkansas and Oklahoma my home state, and Oregon too. I’ve had some happy days here.”
She said her first impression of Lebanon was its sense as a small-town community.
“It was a friendly little town,” Davidson said. “I don’t recognize anything (here) anymore. Certain places I can, but very few. I drive down the street and everything looks different.”
As she set roots in the area, she attended many of its “Arkie-Okie” picnics, which Bishop explained were regular occurrences because many people from Arkansas and Oklahoma had moved into town for logging jobs.
Davidson’s husband worked alongside his brother in the sawmill and logging industry before he died in 1966. She never remarried, stating, “He was my life,” but she continued doing what was necessary to support her family.
When her sister, Esther Brooks, spent two years in the hospital with tuberculosis, the Davidsons took in five of her nine children. Having never had any of her own, Davidson said she cared for her nieces and nephews like they were her own.
“It was quite the ordeal,” niece Loretta Johnston said. “Mom was a single parent with nine kids, and (Dessie) saved all of us. If she hadn’t stepped in to take us when mom went to the hospital, we would’ve been split up and went to foster care, and that was mom’s worst fear.”

Dessie swigs a beer with an extended family member after a hard day of mowing a couple years ago. Conntributed photo

Davidson also took care of her mother-in-law during the latter’s remaining years. She worked odd jobs, kept a well-tended garden, mowed her own lawn until just a couple of years ago, and chopped and stacked her own wood.
When someone commented at her birthday party that this wasn’t proper Southern belle behavior, another attendee chimed in, “That’s bad-a## tough girl behavior!”
And although she no longer mows lawns or chops wood, Davidson maintains a sharp memory and continues to live in her own home.
She said so many things have happened during her 100 years, but what stood out to her was the war and family members who died too early in their lives.

CENTENARIAN Dessie Davidson, adorned with a tiara and sceptor, poses in front of her 100th birthday cake. Photo by Sarah Brown

She claimed she didn’t know the secret to longevity, but attributed it to hard work.
“I think that’s good for anybody,” she said. “It helped me to get through the struggles that I was having to go through.”
For those who want a long life, she advises to do that, work hard and help those who need it.
“Try to get along with everybody, and always thank God for what you have,” she added.
Johnston praised her aunt for being an “amazing woman” and a hard worker.
“She’s been an important part of the family for 100 years,” Bishop said.