Bay Area home to oldest living Girl Scout

February 22, 2008 7:03:12 AM PST
When we think of Girl Scouts, we often think of cookies and little girls in uniform. However, this story is about a young 101-year-old -- the oldest known living Girl Scout in America. But instead of selling cookies, the Palo Alto resident has spent a lifetime pushing better health, and she's had literally thousands of customers.

In a Menlo Park fitness class, dancing with all the others, is an unlikely student who's impossibly fit. Meet 101-year-old Marianne Crowder.

"I don't feel that old," says Marianne.

But the Palo Alto resident is, on record, the oldest living Girl Scout in America. Marianne became a Girl Scout in 1918 at age 12, eventually earning the Golden Eaglet. Now called the Gold Award, that was the highest achievement for girls.

"We did learn to cook well, sew, we learned to sew," says Marianne. And she had to use those skills during World War I. "I was too young to do very much, but we did make bandages (for soldiers)."

Marianne's time as a Girl Scout was just the beginning of a life of uncommon vitality. If you're wondering how she could move like this at age 101, look back on her 97 years of dancing.

"I had talent," says Marianne.

Marianne loves all forms of dance, from ballet, to folk, to modern. In the 1930s she was touring the country when she suffered a major injury during a performance.

"I was in the air, so it caught me and I came down on my five toes and broke them," explains Marianne.

That ended Marianne's professional career. But after moving to Palo Alto with her husband and having kids, she found a new career. In 1949 she began teaching dance at Stanford and the Menlo Park and Palo Alto recreation departments.

Later, Marianne's focus shifted to posture and fitness. Twenty years ago at age 81, she put out an exercise video titled "Mariantics."

"It's just the kind of music that makes you want to move. It makes you happy," says Marianne.

Marianne's happiness comes from her many friends and huge family, and her health comes from good genes, nutrition and exercise. Once a week, she goes to the fitness class she started, now taught by her daughter Sue. On the day we visited she had to sit because she was fighting a bug, but normally...

"I will look over and see her lying on her back, lifting both legs up and down with everyone else. She can still do it," says Sue.

Marianne still attends local Girl Scout events. Last year, she went back to Colorado Springs where the young girls in her troop honored Marianne when she hit the century mark.

Scout leaders say she's teaching the girls so much on an historical and personal level.

"When we look at her and say, 'oh my gosh, she's 101 years old, hope we all look that good,' because she was a Girl Scout and she's had all these great opportunities and she's taken advantage of that," says Michelle McCormick with Girl Scouts of America.

And Marianne plans to keep it up, even after she turns 102 this April. She says she's still very limber and can still touch her toes.

Marianne is in incredible health. She normally doesn't take any pills. And guess what her medical bills added up to last year? Just $70 in dental work. Her vice? She loves milkshakes. But she points out calcium helps prevent osteoporosis.