Honor flight trip, party help mark 100th birthday
Cleo Backus went on her first Honor Flight Oct. 19 and celebrated her 100th birthday Oct. 31. The Dublin Retirement Village resident served in the U.S. Navy and lived much of her life in Grandview Heights and worked at the Columbus School for Girls. Buy This Photo
With Cleo Backus, there's no gilding the lily.
The straight-forward Dublin Retirement Village resident who will turn 100 Oct. 31 isn't used to the attention she's been getting lately with an Honor Flight and a big birthday party planned.
"I'm very humbled and flattered," she said.
The U.S. Navy veteran had been to Washington, D.C., before, but had no intentions of going on an Honor Flight until her two daughters talked her into it.
"When we came through the airport, I went through a gauntlet of young Navy women thanking my generation and me in general for setting the standard," Backus said. "It was an honor to serve my country."
The Oct. 19 trip included stops at the Air Force Museum, World War II and Vietnam memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
"I've been to Arlington National Cemetery before, but never for the changing of the guard," she said, noting the pomp and reverence of the ritual meant a lot to her. "As I stood there and heard them play Taps, having served it was very special."
The Croton, Ohio, native enlisted in the Navy 1943, after graduating from college as the first in her family in 1937.
Although women in the Navy were not allowed on ships, Backus didn't think enlisting was unusual.
"Women were enlisting," she said. "I decided that I'd like to do something for my country that I'd never done before and I never regretted it."
Serving in California was a bit of a culture shock for the mid-western woman, but she made it through officer school and served until the end of World War II.
Upon leaving the Navy, Backus worked in education until she had a family.
"When I married I said I'd work until I was fortunate enough to have children," she said.
While raising her son and two daughters with her husband, David, Backus worked part-time at the Grandview Heights Library, a job at which she learned skills she would use in the future.
"I loved working at the library when students were working on their term papers," she said. "I helped them find books."
While her youngest daughter attended Columbus Schools for Girls, Backus was offered a summer job and was asked to continue into the fall.
At Columbus School for Girls, she worked in the library and taught human nutrition for 25 years before retiring in 1993 to take care of her husband who was suffering from a type of leukemia.
"I wanted to be home when he had his good days," she said. "When he died I went back to doing what I had been as a volunteer. It was a good outlet."
As Backus looks forward to her 100th birthday, she said she will follow in her father's footsteps. He lived to be 102.
"I thought it would be neat to live to the year 2000 and my mother said if I took care of myself, there was no reason I couldn't," she said. "Now it's 13 years later."
To celebrate the big occasion, Backus has several family members coming to town to celebrate, including one cousin making the trek from Alaska.
"That's the icing on the cake," she said of the family gathering.
As for living a long, full life, Backus offered some advice: live well, practice moderation and don't smoke.
And, of course, one more solid piece of advice: "Don't sweat the small stuff."