Helen Clegg Van Arsdale, a former Sacramento resident who owned a popular Fruitridge-area hair salon, died Jan. 24 of pneumonia complications, her family said. She was 107.
She died at home in Petaluma, where she moved several years ago to live with her granddaughter Lisa Zelada.
Mrs. Van Arsdale endured for more than a century with a strong will and an easy ability to adapt to change, her family said. She mourned the deaths of all her children, siblings, husbands and close friends. She thrived after receiving a pacemaker at 101 and a metal rod implanted last year to repair a broken leg.
"The physical therapist was shocked at how she just got up and kept going," Zelada said. "She embraced everything."
Mrs. Van Arsdale spent 55 years in Sacramento, where her son, Robert Clegg, was a renowned hair stylist who owned several Talk of the Town salons. Before leaving in the early 1960s to be a jet-setting stylist, he gave his mother one of his stores, at Fruitridge Shopping Center.
Mrs. Van Arsdale succeeded with a strong work ethic from early years supporting her family as a domestic, waitress and factory worker. She put in long hours and hired talented stylists who drew a loyal clientele.
"She didn't know the first thing about hair, but she was a smart woman with good common sense," Zelada said. "She had all 10 chairs in the salon full all the time."
Born in 1904 to farmers in Dallas, Iowa, Helen Cornelia Silvanus was the third of nine children in her family. She left high school to work, married coal miner Frank Clegg by age 19 and had two children.
She was a widow when she married Melvin Van Arsdale, from whom she legally separated at his death. She was predeceased by her son in 2004 and by her daughter, Bonnie Barger, in 2005.
Mrs. Van Arsdale sold her salon and lived for many years in the Colonial Village area. She was an active member of Senior Gleaners and Fruitridge Christian Church. After moving to Petaluma, she planted her granddaughter's garden and helped baby-sit her great-grandchildren.
"When you visited, you'd end up fixing a fence with her or canning vegetables," said her granddaughter Addrienne Clegg. "She was no wilting flower. She was a toughie."
Mrs. Van Arsdale kept her mind sharp by reading, working crossword puzzles and discussing politics. She told stories that brought history to life with personal memories: saying goodbye as her brother boarded a train to fight in World War I, or cooking stew with government-issued meat over an open fire because she couldn't afford 30 cents to fill her gas stove during the Great Depression.
"She'd tell you everything in chronological order with all the details, like what the weather was that day," said her granddaughter Katie Barger. "It was like she had a photographic memory."