Local resident celebrates 100th birthday

Kathryn Gilbert celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 30. Gilbert, the daughter of an established businessman, still owns retail property on Broadway Avenue. “I love business,” said Gilbert. “The most important thing is to be a good manager—of people, of your business.” Leanora Benkato/HERALD

Andrew Henderson

From the outside, 1701 Chestnut St. appears to be an older two-story home with an expansive yard and a noticeable brick chimney. Those invited into the home, however, will see a woman who has survived a century. 

Kathryn Gilbert, a lifelong Bowling Green native, celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 30. She is a mother, grandmother, breast cancer survivor, dancer and businesswoman. 

“I’ve done nearly everything in business,” Gilbert said. 

Glenda White, Gilbert’s daughter and Bowling Green native, said her mother was named Business Woman of the Year in 1950. The Park City Daily News wrote a story about Gilbert’s accomplishments that was published May 28, 1950. The story, “Women in Business,” was written by Linda Listens.

Gilbert graduated from the Training School in 1934 and then attended the Business University from 1937 until 1939. Gilbert said she might have attended WKU, but at the time it was mainly a teachers college, and she had no desire to teach. 

“I’m a good organizer, and I’m a good manager, and I had a daddy that (sic) was that way that taught me how,” Gilbert said. 

In 1939, she landed her first job with the Agricultural Conservation Association. Then, in 1942, Gilbert said she’d “like to do her bit for defense” as World War II was being waged overseas. She traveled to Louisville, applied for a position in the Curtiss-Wright Corporation defense plant and landed a job. 

Later that year, her father got her a “regular he-man’s job” as a relief clerk from Bowling Green to Decatur, Alabama, in the Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s freight department. She was the second woman to work in the local freight office. 

“I love business of all kinds,” Gilbert said.

Despite Gilbert’s long, rich history in business, she said being the secretary of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce was her greatest accomplishment. White agreed with her sentiments. 

“Everybody knows what [the Chamber of Commerce] is, and she started it and got it going so much that they had to hire other people,” White said. 

Gilbert started her position as secretary in 1945 and was there until 1953. Gilbert reminisced about the small population of Bowling Green when she served as secretary, estimating about 12,000 residents. She believes Bowling Green will continue to expand and WKU will help with the expansion.

“It’s growing, and it’s still going to grow more, but I started it rolling,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert’s age has not prevented her from staying proactive in her health and business skills. She said reading keeps her mind active, and her morning cycling keeps her body active. Gilbert said even now she could handle business if she needed to.

“Well, I tried all my life to eat right and do right so I would live to be of old age, and here I am still truckin’,” Gilbert said.

Aside from being a businesswoman, Gilbert was also a dancer and won dancing contests at the Business University. She said her favorite form of dance is ballroom dancing. Just two months ago, she danced at her great-nephew’s wedding. 

“Someone asked her to dance, and she got up and danced. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, she’s going to fall,’ but she got up and danced, and that was in July,” White said. 

Reflecting back, Gilbert said many of life’s truths and secrets came down to being good at business and treating others fairly.

“You’ve got to be a good manager…[of] your money and everything else,” Gilbert said. “If you can’t manage, you can’t do anything.”

Marrying a good husband—one who doesn’t drink or carouse, she added—having faith, going to church, loving everybody and treating them all the same is how she’s had a good life for a full century.

“I love life, and life’s good to me because I’m good to life,” Gilbert said.