National Grandparent of the Year 2010
Alberta Iliff Shattuck

by Martin Turner, Colorado State Representative

There is something humbling about being in the presence of Alberta Illiff Shattuck, a resident of Aspen Siesta Nursing Home in Denver, Colorado, who recently joined the small, elite club of centenarians in December of 2009 and now bears the honor of accepting the National Grandparent of the Year 2010 award. Her pedigree is remarkable-a member of the venerable Iliff family, who co-founded a school of theology bearing the same name in 1892, and has given generously to the University of Denver, not to mention her own accomplishments- her assistant professorship in biochemistry at the University of Colorado, and her vanguard work for the Child Research Council. She graduated from the University of Denver, transferring from Smith College in Massachusetts, at a time when women were still encouraged to stay home and mind the household. Not Alberta, she never bowed to convention, she had the desire and drive to make a change for the better in the world. She wanted to heal the suffering of children and with her research and programs she helped countless children who suffered from asthma and other maladies.

Alberta Iliff Shattuck with son, Rod
and daughter-in-law Gayle

Her slim, frail body shrouds a cognizant, highly spiritual being whose wisdom transcends the decades. Her soft eyes intensely focus on my questions, pausing for a brief moment to internalize what I have asked and formulate a meaningful answer. After drawing a breath her head rises, eyes meeting mine, and with a smile, she shares with me the aphorism that has carried her well in to her one hundredth year of life-“You can fight things you can change, but don’t fight what you can’t,” pausing as her chin again finds a resting place in her chest while taking in another breath, she continues the imparting of her wisdom “Be polite to others…don’t pick a fight.”
Her eyes beaming, Alberta recalls her past, being born in Trinidad, Colorado in 1909, and coming to Denver at an early age. She recalls her grammar school days like they were yesterday. Her family’s affiliation with the University of Denver would point Alberta in the direction of higher education and eventually her PHD in the sciences, specializing chemistry and bacteriology.
Still in awe of her presence, I asked her what type of self-reflection she has done at age one hundred, and what advice she would give those younger then her. Again with a slow and deliberate response she smiled and shared with me another valuable lesson-“accept and make the best of what comes along…you should try to see the best in everyone you meet; try not to be critical.” She attributes her philosophy of life to her youth, growing up in the Methodist faith and reflecting how that faith has shaped her outlook on life. It is no surprise since her family is responsible for establishing a training school for ministers-it is in her blood.
As she continues to reminisce I find an excellent opportunity to ask her a curious question: What would be a sentinel event in your life that altered the path you took? This time she needed not but a moment of reflection, nor a breath, answering “Marrying my husband would have to be the most memorable and life-changing.” She was 49 when married in 1959. She delighted in her stories of travel with her husband and family, especially the two sons, Robert and Donald, she inherited from her husband’s first marriage. When recalling the boy’s youth she laughed out loud “They (her boys) have never thrown anything at me that I haven’t seen before.”
Her smile widens as she shares her stories about her grandchildren, all four of them: Leanne, Douglass, both belonging to Robert, and Joan and Wesley, both belonging to Donald.
Of course her grandchildren are now in their thirties and have children of her their own, but Alberta still embraces her memories of her grandchildren as little and coming over to her town home in Ridgewood Village and helping them learn how to swim. She also remembers the wonderful croquet games held in the backyard and grandchildren running every which way. Alberta’s most vivid memory of spending time with her grandchildren was a surprise family trip in honor of her 25th wedding anniversary, she and her husband whisked away the family to Great Britain for two weeks. She stated “The grandkids were spoiled!”
The interview slowly comes to an end, and Alberta, glowing as her eyes reflect deep introspective thought as she searches for the appropriate words, smiles and thanks me for this honor-“This is such an honor…thank you so much!” I am without words and think to myself what an honor it is to be in her presence and how she has made such an impact on the world around her, impacting so many lives for the better. Truly, a grandparent among grandparents!!!