Facebooking at 104

Edythe Kirchmaier: Direct Relief Volunteer, Social Network Matriarch

Edythe Kirchmaier plays Words With Friends on her new iPad mini with her Facebook page open in the background.
Paul Wellman

Driving since she was 19, Edythe Kirchmaier has never been in a car accident and has never gotten a speeding ticket; she’s never even received a parking citation. Admirable, sure, but maybe not too uncommon, except for the fact that Kirchmaier has been driving for 86 years.

Yep, that’s right: She’s 104 years young, turning 105 as of January 22. When I arrived for my interview with Kirchmaier at her upper Westside home Monday afternoon, she was sitting on her couch studying for her upcoming DMV driving test. It’s been five years since she got her license renewed. On that visit, she gave the guy behind the counter a hard time. “I questioned him,” she explained. “I’m 100 years old.” Luckily, when it comes to getting a license, age doesn’t matter — being able to drive safely does.

But while having a license at 105 is remarkable, it’s only part of what makes Kirchmaier a unique lady: She may very well be Facebook’s oldest registered user.

Born in 1908 in Akron, Ohio, Kirchmaier moved to Springfield, Ohio, when she was 3 years old, living there until graduating high school. She enrolled in Ohio State University and graduated in 1931. She went on to the University of Chicago for grad school, studying social administration. But she ran into the Depression and ran out of money, she said. Kirchmaier married her husband, Joseph — they were both in social work and together for 70 years until he died in 2008 — and the two headed west in 1938. They never looked back. The couple bought their Santa Barbara house in 1948, and she’s lived there ever since.

For her birthday this year, Kirchmaier — still sharp as a tack — is hoping to bring attention to Direct Relief International, the Goleta-based nonprofit that works both domestically and abroad to improve people’s quality of life. Kirchmaier was first introduced to Direct Relief 40 years ago when she and Joseph responded to a newspaper ad looking for volunteers. Having recently retired, the Kirchmaiers decided to spend 18 months in Taiwan. After returning, the couple decided to go back and spent another 18 months there. Edythe taught English while Joseph taught at the local university.

Kirchmaier hasn’t stopped volunteering. Over the last four decades, she packed relief boxes in the warehouse, and now she writes letters — in the most amazing cursive you’ve ever seen, said Kerri Murray, Direct Relief’s vice president of communications — to those who have donated to the organization. She comes in every Tuesday, hardly missing a week.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” Kirchmaier said. “One of the best. They’re mainly concerned in improving the health of people all over the world, and they stay with it until it’s finished.” She noted Direct Relief’s active presence in Haiti post-earthquake.

So Kirchmaier, who has a son and daughter, six grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren, is asking people to log onto Facebook and light a candle in her honor and support Direct Relief International. Thousands of people from around the world have done so. Those include celebs who have tweeted their support, and Glee star Jane Lynch, who narrated the video of Kirchmaier featured on Direct Relief’s site.

Kirchmaier, according to officials at Direct Relief, is the social networking site’s oldest registered user. Prior to her logging on, Facebook didn’t even have an age option for 104-year-olds. Facebook workers plugged away for several weeks on the coding so she could officially register her birth year as 1908. While Facebook officials didn’t respond to a request for confirmation, it appears she holds the title. There are news reports of similarly aged women on the site, but Kirchmaier was the first to be able to formally register with her correct age.

Now Kirchmaier — more tech savvy than some people half her age — can monitor her page from both her home computer and her new iPad mini, a family Christmas gift. To light a birthday candle in Edythe Kirchmaier’s honor and like Direct Relief on Facebook, visit facebook.com/directrelief.


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