101-year-old takes celebration spin

Gagnebin prepares to toss a metal ring as they pass by the clown target at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk carousel.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — As the carousel twirled around and around, 101-year-old Marguerite “Margie” Gagnebin gleefully tossed a metal ring with each revolution, grasping the pole of her brightly colored horse with the other hand.

The spry Chicago native decided months ago that she wanted to celebrate this year’s birthday by riding on the famous Looff Carousel. Gagnebin saw a documentary program on PBS awhile back that featured the carousel, and when she discovered it was delivered to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk the same month and year she was born, August 1911, she became determined to ride it in honor of her birthday.

Most senior citizens who ride the carousel sit in a chariot, but Margie Gagnebin was intent on riding a horse and tossing a ring from there, said Brigid Fuller, a spokeswoman for the Boardwalk. Last month, accompanied by family members, she did just that.

“That was wonderful!” she said when the ride finished, before going back for another round. “I’ve waited 101 years for this!”

The centenarian still lives a life of independence as the oldest resident of a senior apartment complex in Novato, Calif. She uses a wheelchair on occasion, but is mostly able to get around on her own.

“She is an extraordinary woman, very alert, with all her mental faculties,” Leland Gagnebin, her only son, said. “She’s just the type of person that sincerely cares and touches everyone’s life that she meets.”

Danish woodcarver Charles D. Looff delivered the merry-go-round to the Boardwalk in August 1911, and it remains among a handful of carousels in the world that still features a working ring dispenser. It was declared a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Park Service in 1987.

The same year the carousel joined the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Marguerite Ruth Ottillie Olson Gagnebin was born in Chicago and grew up on the city’s northwest side. She met her husband, a Navy man, in 1943. She spent a few years living in California while her husband served in Pearl Harbor before returning to the Windy City, where her son, Leland, was born. She’d remain there after her husband’s death before driving cross-country at the age of 73 to join her son and grandson, a Santa Rosa firefighter, in California.

Marking Tuesday’s milestone with her with her son, daughter-in-law, and a throng of grandchildren, with whom she happily shared an ice cream cone and a plenitude of giggles.

“I live for the children. Even when you’re 101, you live for the children,” she said, festooned by a brightly colored lei.

Now that she’s gotten one more wish crossed off, she’s looking forward to returning next year.