Celebrating a century of life | TheUnion.com

Celebrating a century of life

Clara Palacio didn't think much was out of the ordinary when her grandson picked her up for a family gathering Sunday.

But when she arrived at her great-granddaughter's Alta Sierra home, she was surprised by a contingent of her kin 35 members strong, as five generations gathered a couple days early to celebrate her century of life.

Today is Clara's 100th birthday.

"It was wonderful to see them all," Clara said Sunday, still beaming after getting a bit of help from a great-great-grandson in blowing out the candles. "I'm happy to have all of them. They're all my family."

Mike Coffey, Clara's grandson who served as her Sunday morning chauffeur from Golden Empire Convalescent Hospital, said the surprise party had been in the works for two to three months. And although Clara knew she was headed over to the home of her great-granddaughter, Shawn Bryant, she didn't suspect much, as the tight-knit family regularly gets together.

In fact, the family not only makes a point of getting together, they've all made a commitment to stay together.

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Years ago, after Ann Estes, a family member moved to Grass Valley from the Salinas area, the whole clan followed soon thereafter. Clara's daughter and son, Lila Coffey and Ron Behm, along with grandsons Mike and Steve and granddaughter Michelle, all moved their families to western Nevada County.

Clara, herself, moved here 10 years ago, which means she gets to celebrate the birthdays of the rest of the family — which also includes grandsons Ron and Jackie; great-grandchildren Heather, Kristin and Jessica; along with great-great-grandkids Ashton, Peighton, Paige, Jayden, Rylan, Drake and Piper — who were all on hand Sunday.

"When we all moved up here, there were so many of us that they had to change the population number on that (Grass Valley city limits) sign," Mike Coffey said with a laugh.

Gennelle Jones, who first met Clara when she was 16 years old, said she's known her now for 61 years.

"She's been an inspiration to me all these years," Jones said. "I'm so happy to share this special day with her."

Tears and champagne were flowing freely as the family raised a glass in toast of the guest of honor.

"She's an example of what clean living, working hard and being a Christian gets you," said Steve Coffey, her grandson. "The reason she's lived to be a hundred years old is because she's been such a blessing to everyone in her life."

"That's why," Mike Coffey said moments earlier. "She believes she's still here after 100 years because the Lord wants her to continue to share His word."

After enjoying a piece of birthday cake, Clara said she had already been presented with the best birthday gift she could imagine.

"I love it up here," Clara said of her life in the Grass Valley area. "Right now, I just want to be happy — and have all my family around me."

Contact Managing Editor Brian Hamilton via email at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4249.

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