Throughout her long life, Vernon’s Dorothy Chura has fought many battles, and overcome countless obstacles. Her most recent victory: a fight against COVID-19.
At 105, she is believed to be the oldest person to survive the virus in B.C.
It’s for this reason her upcoming 105th birthday will serve as an extra-special milestone.
The Heritage Square resident will celebrate her birthday on March 16, 2021. Born in Witko, Sask. in 1916, the beginning of Chura’s story predates her move to Vernon by nearly a century.
Given that she’s lived through multiple World Wars and other global catastrophes — as well as personal health scares and poverty — her survival of the novel coronavirus is almost unsurprising.
Almost, if not for the fact that U.S. Centers for Disease Control data suggests people aged 85 years and up have a fatality rate 7,900 times higher than people from ages five to 17 — and the risk is much higher among centenarians.
Seventy people, 47 residents and 23 staff tested positive and nine people died following an outbreak at Heritage Square. Although Chura was also infected, she fought through. The outbreak, which was announced in late December, was declared over mid-February.
“She has always been determined to overcome the challenges of her life even as she aged, and she has,” Dorothy’s daughter, Diane, told the Morning Star.
Chura’s first major life alteration came at the age of five when her mother passed away,
Her father moved to the United States to re-marry. Chura was placed in eight different foster homes before landing in a family whose patriarch would not allow her to go to school, instead sending her to work the farm.
Such was life in the Prairies for an orphaned girl, until she got married on Aug. 6, 1938 to Peter (Pat) Chura at the age of 21.
As the oldest of five children Peter had been forced to leave medical school to help his mother and siblings, when his own father suddenly died. He later became a teacher — it was a cheaper and easier profession to get into then.
Following this, the young couple moved around Saskatchewan. Dorothy took part in local theatre activities, and also took the spotlight.
“Reportedly she was a gifted actress,” her daughter says.
When they arrived in Toronto in 1942, Dorothy proved herself an “exceptional seamstress” and talented hair stylist, but with her husband’s purchase of confectionery and lunch restaurant, she reinvented herself in the city as a businesswoman. And she was good at that, too.
“It was hard work with long hours, but they made it thrive,” Diane said. “Dorothy proved to be a natural businesswoman and through her contacts, wheeling, dealing, and great resourcefulness managed always to procure items no other store could find.”
One lunch confectionery became two, but in the interest of sparing themselves from extremely long hours, they sold the business — only to go the Empire route.
The Churas moved to Hamilton, Ont. and bought the Empire Motel. They had a daughter in 1949, who came to them between two hotel purchases after they relocated to Brantford and bought The Strand, a prohibition-era hotel, which suffered damage from a major fire that levelled several businesses on the block. Pat returned to teaching.
The couple had been married almost 50 years when in the late 1980s Pat became sick. An earlier diagnosis of arthritis later manifested itself as prostate cancer.
“Dorothy nursed him lovingly at home for as long as she was able, but the disease was too far progressed.” Pat died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Brantford in 1988.
“The loss of her life partner was traumatic,” her daughter said. “Still, Dorothy carried on valiantly for many years in Brantford after he passed, continuing to be an active member of her church community in the company of her friends of so many years and created a new life for herself.”
In 2007 Dorothy moved to Vernon to be nearer to Diane and son-in-law Wayne Wilson. But the strain and magnitude of the change took its toll, and she suffered a heart attack.
“However, Dorothy has always been a remarkable survivor, and triumphed in true prairie fashion,” her daughter said.
Chura stayed spry as a centenarian. At 100 years old she maintained her flower pots, bowled weekly, took long walks, did leg lifts daily to maintain her figure and avidly read the papers. Diane says she still dressed fashionably, got her hair done every Saturday and looked younger than her age. She watched the news on TV to stay informed about a world her generation had long since passed on to the next.
She moved into Heritage Square in Vernon — which she has come to love — after breaking her hip in 2019, and a day before her 104th birthday the retirement residence went into full COVID-19 lockdown.
Pandemics are said to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. While Chura likely doesn’t remember the Spanish Flu of 1918 having been just two years old at the time, she’s one of few to live through multiple global outbreaks.
That’s worthy of a toast come March 16th.