Soon-to-be centenarian set for tour of Grass Valley, Nevada City on 100th birthday |

Soon-to-be centenarian set for tour of Grass Valley, Nevada City on 100th birthday

From left, caretaker Tina Wallace, with Jean Cates, who will turn 100 on Aug. 24. Home bound for the past seven years, community members are planning a brief birthday reception at noon in downtown Grass Valley.
Cory Fisher/ |

Monday will be a very special day for Jean Cates of Nevada City. It’s the day she turns 100 years old. In fact, she can barely believe it herself.

“No one’s as old as I am,” she mused. “It’s just incredible.”

Cates lost her husband back in the ’80s, when he was 83. She has since lost both of her children, and all of her contemporaries have passed on. Her only remaining relatives are her grandson, Steve Moran-Cassese, and two great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Marin County. But for more than a decade, she has had her beloved caretaker, Tina Wallace, by her side.

“I couldn’t have a better pal,” said Cates, patting Wallace’s hand. “Tina is very special to me.”

“I think this celebration is just wonderful. When I was growing up, I was always dazzled by my grandmother. She’s pretty special — she’s been a rock in my life since I was born. She’s the best grandmother anyone could ever ask for.”Steve Moran-Cassese

That’s why it was Wallace who asked Cates what she would like for her 100th birthday. It turned out to be a simple request. Having been homebound for the past seven years, all she would like to do is take a tour around town, to see how things have changed, she said. She’d like to drive down Broad Street in Nevada City and look at the shops, then drive over to Greenwood Memorial Cemetery on Rough and Ready Highway, where her husband and daughter are buried. Finally, she’d like to see downtown Grass Valley. She’d simply like to open the doors of the ambulance and look out on the town she moved to back in the 1940s, she said.

Because she is unable to sit up, she requested an ambulance with windows and a gurney. At the risk of appearing to look like a “floozy,” she said she will be wearing a boa, tiara and birthday sash. And there was one more stipulation: she would like to be accompanied by two handsome paramedics.

“Make sure they are young and good-looking men — under 50,” said Cates. “I don’t care whether they’re married or not. It will be one of the few times I get to see a man, except for Josh the gardener — now he’s a treat.”

When Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital heard about Cates’ request, they were immediately on board. Since learning the news, Cates has jokingly been practicing her queen wave.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to be able to make this special moment possible for Mrs. Cates,” said Katherine A. Medeiros, president and CEO of SNMH. “One hundred years is certainly something to celebrate.”

Since then, Robin Galvan-Davies, CEO of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce and Diane Raymond, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, are rallying local merchants and community members.

“It’s no surprise to see the downtown Grass Valley merchants want to turn out to help make Jean Cates’ 100th birthday a community celebration,” said Raymond. “It speaks to the kind of business owners who choose to call Grass Valley home. It’s one more example of how they come together for shared experience and the greater good for downtown.”

Community spirit and enthusiasm is building — townsfolk seem eager show Cates that her beloved twin cities are still what she remembered them to be.

“Just let us know when and where and we’ll be there,” said Roger Fox, who will be performing hits from Cates’ heyday with the Wildwood Quartet. “We love doing things like this — heck, some of us are in our 80s.”

When the folks at The Owl Grill and Saloon heard that Cates’ favorite birthday meal was their famous prime rib (medium rare), they were quick to offer her a dinner on the house.

The ambulance is scheduled to pick Cates up at 11 a.m. on her birthday, Aug. 24. According to her caretaker, Cates believes she will just be taking a short tour through town and returning home. But by noon, the ambulance will be parked in the alley on Mill Street between two businesses — The Owl and Future Generations. Community members are invited to join in the brief birthday reception in the alley.

If Cates knew there was a planned celebration, she would protest, said Wallace. But she’ll love every minute of it.

“I think this celebration is just wonderful,” said Moran-Cassese, Cates’ grandson. “When I was growing up, I was always dazzled by my grandmother. She’s pretty special — she’s been a rock in my life since I was born. She’s the best grandmother anyone could ever ask for.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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