Senior citizens and staff at Redmond’s Overlake Terrace Assisted Living and Memory Care cheered as Thomas Branch blew out the candles on an auspicious birthday cake Monday — with a little help from his daughter Kathi Reilly of Redmond.
Branch was celebrating his 100th year. Daughter and son-in-law Carol and Gene Currah of Bellevue were also on hand. The day before, Branch was honored by a total of 15 family members.
He was born in Manistique, Mich. on Nov. 10, 1908. His family moved to San Diego when he was four and he lived there until 1958 when he and his wife Irene moved to Mercer Island with their two girls.
Throughout his life, Branch worked in the aircraft building industry and owned an equipment rental business. He and Irene retired to Orcas Island where he was active in the Lions Club and enjoyed hobbies such as boating, watch repair, fixing anything and towing his fifth wheeler up and down the coast and across the country. Irene passed away in 1985.
When Branch moved to Overlake Terrace in 2005, he was 97 and still driving. His daughters wanted their dad to be nearby, they explained.
Driving had always been one of her dad’s favorite pastimes, said Carol. She mentioned an amusing story from his high school days in San Diego. He and some friends drove a Model-T to a football game in Pasadena. On the way home, they were low on gas so he backed up a hill to keep the fuel level as stable as possible, while a buddy leaned out of the car with a flashlight to guide him.
Kathi noted that their mother didn’t like to go camping, but she and her sister often accompanied Branch on trips to Yosemite and Big Bear.
“We camped in a tent — not out in the wilderness, but in a campground,” she said.
The sisters agreed that their parents were quite the smooth dancers back in their heyday.
At Monday’s lunchtime party, an accordian and saxophone player broke out some toe-tapping tunes that were popular at the time Branch was born, including “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Since Branch is not much of a baseball fan, the musicians joked, “We’ll only play it once, Tom.”
David Standring, personal preferences coordinator for residents at Overlake Terrace, has written to former Presidents Jimmy Carter and William Clinton, hoping that they’ll send Branch some congratulations for making it to the century mark.