Tucked away on an isolated street, down an overgrown driveway not far from State Route 520, is an Eastside original celebrating a century.
Virginia Brehm turned 100 on Dec. 7, surrounded by family and friends in her 108-year old house in Clyde Hill. She remembers how much the Eastside has changed since she came across Lake Washington.
When she and her late husband Ed moved to the Eastside from Mercer Island in 1949, Bellevue Way was a gravel road and Main Street was the only paved road in Bellevue, and even then it was paved with bricks.
Brehm recalls riding her horse “Tony” around Clyde Hill and Bellevue, and sometimes after she would put him away for the night, he would go on adventures of his own.
“We’d get calls from the police chief at 2 a.m. saying Tony had gotten out again,” she said.
Her oldest son, Karl, remembers they weren’t too popular with the neighbors after Tony broke out and started munching on new grass, tearing up lawns.
But he and Brehm’s other son, Keith, loved the open space of Clyde Hill and Bellevue at the time. The boys would collect filberts (a colloquialism for hazlenuts) and sell them at the market. To this day, the property still holds a six-acre lavender farm, conecting the Eastside’s past to the present.
Brehm grew up in Seattle, attended Lincoln High School in Wallingford and met Ed, marrying shortly thereafter. Ed and his father ran several general stores in Seattle while Virginia spent time horseback riding, skiing (she continued to ski until she was 85 on Mt. Rainier, Whistler, Mt. Baker and Banff) and playing with her dogs.
An artist named Josephine Crumrine painted portraits of four of those dogs — Jay Bird, Laddie, Copper and Jerry — which still hang in her home to this day.
On December 7, 1941, Brehm turned 25.
“I felt bad for the fellas on board the ships,” she said of that day of infamy.
Ed had a ship in Lake Washington which was about to be commandeered for the war effort by the Coast Guard.
“He said if you’re taking my boat, you better take me too,” Brehm said.
Ed served in the Coast Guard during the remainder of the war while Virginia’s father served in the U.S. Navy. When Japan surrendered, life slowly got back to normal for the country. However, the impact was still felt by the time the Brehms moved to Bellevue, and many of the Japanese farmers who owned land on the Eastside were gone, sent to internment camps in Idaho or California.
Most never returned to Washington after the imprisonment.
By 1949, when Ed and Virginia arrived, Bellevue was undergoing transition, as it would until the present day.
Karl and Keith attended Bellevue High School. Ed passed away in 1982. Brehm has five grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren and remains healthy.
Several hours a day, Griswold Home Care employees help Brehm out with various tasks, but she remains largely independent.
“She still lives on her own and loves her privacy,” said Settie Safa, marketing director for Griswold’s Eastside operations. “Virginia is still very sharp and alert she can be quite stubborn and knows exactly what she wants.”
So what’s the secret to making it to 100?
“Oh heck if I know,” Brehm said. “I’ve been trying to figure it out for myself for a while.”