Scottsdale resident Athena Wright donned her finest black, red, and white blouse and waved from the entrance of Pueblo Norte Assisted Living.
Surrounding her was her daughter, Diane Wright, and Pueblo Norte staff, one of whom held a sign that read, “Happy 105th Birthday, Athena!”
As Aug. 25 marked a milestone birthday for Athena, the city of Scottsdale joined American Legion Post 44 and others for a socially distanced drive-by birthday parade.
“She was totally awed,” Diane said.
Other participants included Scottsdale Fire, Library, Police, Solid Waste, and Water.
Athena also received a special birthday gift from Mayor Lane: He proclaimed Aug. 25 as “Athena Wright Day.”
“The beautiful proclamation read and presented to my mother by vice mayor Solange Whitehead was a totally unexpected honor that I don’t believe has fully sunk in,” Diane said. “The parade was a lot for her to absorb.”
A Scottsdale resident since 2000, Athena was born in 1915 in Oxford, Massachusetts.
After graduating from high school, she became a registered nurse and worked in New York City until 1941 when she joined the U.S. Army.
“Since this was before Pearl Harbor, I asked why and she said that all the boys were joining up, and since she was single, she decided to do the same,” Diane said.
Athena entered as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in September 1941 at Ft. Dupont, Delaware.
“She was assigned to a medical unit and arrived in Australia in June 1942,” Diane recalled, adding that her mother served in numerous station hospitals in Australia and at the 18th Station Hospital in the New Guinea jungle.
Athena was relieved from active duty in December 1944 and earned Bronze Stars for her service in New Guinea and the East Indies during World War II.
“My mother is an extremely strong and independent woman, traits that have served her well throughout her long life,” Diane said. “It started as soon as she graduated from nursing school and immediately moved to New York City from her Connecticut village.”
During her time in the Pacific, she married Diane’s father, a major in the medical corps, and became pregnant with Diane.
The family eventually settled in Washington D.C., where Diane’s father gave up his commission to help set up the Veterans Administration, where he worked in the Department of Medicine and Surgery until his retirement.
Athena went on to work at Mt. Alto Veterans Hospital through 1967 and in 1968 transferred to the National Institutes of Health, where she remained until her retirement.
She relocated to Scottsdale in 2000.
“This parade and the recognition by the city of Scottsdale and the American Legion are a wonderful tribute to her long life and public service in the military and later at Mount Alto Veterans Hospital and the National Institutes of Health,” Diane said.