Just a few months away from her 100th birthday, Mildred Pierce is determined to walk on her own.

Allison Hurtado/AFN

With a 100th birthday coming up in May, Mildred Pierce has one goal: to be walking on her own at her 100th birthday celebration.

“I have two children and I promised both of them I’d be walking on my birthday,” Pierce said. “I’m certainly hoping to. I’m heading that way.”

A few years ago Pierce suffered a heart attack, a stroke and a blood clot. Doctors told her she’d never be able to get out of a wheelchair, but that wasn’t good enough for her. As soon as she got home from rehab she ditched the wheelchair and began walking with a walker.

Now, just a few months away from her 100th birthday, Pierce is determined to walk on her own. With help from Ahwatukee Curves and her roommate, Lois Brilland, Pierce is working out three times a week and getting stronger every day. She says what keeps her going is pure positivity.

“I think people who keep working live longer and are much happier,” Pierce said. “I think that’s half the battle. People that are unhappy don’t hang around. I feel OK. There are times when I don’t feel OK and then I have to meditate and get back on track.”

Pierce was born on May 21, 1912. She took on her first job at the age of 12, selling homemade candy to local businesses to help support her family. She saved $3 a month from her candy sales to go toward dance lessons for herself.

Eventually, she moved to San Francisco to help support her sister and there she found a dance instructor who allowed her to teach dance to some of the younger students. She practiced Spanish dance and a lot of tap.

After an agent told her that her legs didn’t look like dancer’s legs and she better find a new profession, she opened her own dance school.

At the age of 40 Pierce went back to college, and at 52 she began teaching special education classes in kindergarten through sixth grades.

That’s where she met her current roommate. Brilland owned a private school in Sacramento, Calif., which focused on children with special needs. When Pierce had to retire at 65 she continued to work as a substitute for as long as she could.

Eleven years ago, Pierce’s husband passed away and Brilland invited her to move in with her in Arizona.

“Those who know her say she’s an inspiration,” Brilland said. “It’s her attitude. She continues to learn and continues to do. When you quit doing, you start dying. She’s not going to quit.”

Brilland is planning a big dinner in Ahwatukee at Ruffino Italian Cuisine for Pierce’s 100th birthday. Pierce’s son is coming in from Florida and her daughter already lives nearby. Brilland said she’s inviting anyone who knows Pierce.

“To me, it’s a landmark,” Brilland said. “When you have the mentality she has and can have the vigor to do the exercise she is doing, she is an inspiration to anybody. The thing about her that is different is she has the mental acuity. There are people even a lot younger that have lost the thinking ability. What value is life if you don’t even know what’s going on around you?”

Brilland said if she hadn’t known Pierce for so long, she might not believe her when she says she’ll be walking on her own, but Pierce has a strong will and she’s working hard to reach her goal.

“It’s about determination,” Pierce said. “If something needs to be done, you do it. There are many things you need on your path of life. Everyone’s path is different. Each one thinks differently. A lot of people use their brain, but they don’t use their mind. It helps if you use your mind with the brain.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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