The Oaks at Gilbert staff

The Oaks at Gilbert staff threw a party last Wednesday for Mildred Riggs Korsten as she marked her 100th birthday.

Mildred Riggs Korsten was born in 1920 in her grandparents’ home at 118 W. 6th St. in Tempe.

The house is gone today, replaced by a multilevel public parking garage.

A lot more has changed since for Riggs Korsten, who turned 100 on Veterans Day.

“Everybody knew each other,” said Riggs Korsten, the decent of a Tempe pioneer family. “You couldn’t do anything wrong because everybody knew your family.”

Last Wednesday, friends and staff at The Oaks at Gilbert, a senior-living community, helped celebrate Riggs Korsten’s big day with balloons, a marble cake, flowers and a jar with 100 Hershey’s Kisses.

 She was decked out in a tiara and a sash proclaiming, “100 and Fabulous.”

Family members showed up earlier in the day to wish her happy birthday from outside her room’s window. The previous Saturday, relatives held a surprise parade outside the building.

The Oaks hasn’t allowed visitors since the onset of the pandemic in March.

The biggest surprise on Nov. 11 was the arrival of Nancy Riggs, a former daughter-in-law who has stayed close with Riggs Korsten.

“She has the greatest sense of humor,” said Riggs, who used to play the piano for The Oaks residents once a week before COVID-19. “She’s hilarious.”

Riggs had to take a COVID test on Monday in order to be allowed in to play the piano. 

She entertained her former mother-in-law and others with melodies such as “Happy Birthday,” “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

She said it’s been difficult for Riggs-Korsten not to have her family visit face to face. 

 “She hates it,” she said. “It’s hard.”

Also hard for Riggs Korsten was wearing her mask, which she wanted to take off.

  For the centenarian, it’s kind of full circle with living under restrictions – COVID-19 in 2020 and in 1920, when the Prohibition banned alcohol until 1933.

Riggs Korsten was the second of six children for Clyde and Myrtle Sandoz. All four brothers have passed away and her sister, Sue Ann, is 88.

Her dad was in the building trade and helped construct many homes in the Valley.  

After graduating from Tempe High School, Riggs Korsten attended what is now known as Arizona State University – then called Arizona State Teacher’s College. There, she met Noble Riggs, who was known as Rusty. Riggs Road is named after his family.

She said Noble was the captain of the ASU football team and had signed to play for the Green Bay Packers but never did because World War II broke out.

Noble joined the Army and two got married on Dec. 20, 1940. 

After the war ended, Noble stayed in the military and Riggs Korsten followed her husband through the multiple transfers around the country. 

The couple raised three boys and Riggs Korsten likely would have remained a military wife had her husband not died unexpectedly.

“He shot a pheasant and died,” she said matter-of-factly. “He was hunting and just dropped dead.”

Ted was an Army lieutenant colonel at the time of his passing in 1965 at age 46.

 Riggs Korsten found work in a drugstore in Scottsdale after being a stay-at-home mom most of her life.  

Three years later, she quit and went to work for a bank that became Wells Fargo Bank. She stayed on the job for 30 years and retired in her 70s.

It was then she found love a second time with husband, Hans Theodore “Ted” Korsten. 

She had known him in high school and later found out that he and Noble were roommates at ASU.

Riggs Korsten can’t recall when she married her second husband but only that they had wedded bliss for 12 years.

She said Ted, who came from a family of farmers, used to ride his horse to school and all those years of riding twisted his back. He owned a ranch that he sold when he married Riggs Korsten.

The doctors at the time said he could stay on morphine the rest of his life to control the pain or undergo surgery, Riggs Korsten said. Ted opted for surgery but didn’t survive, dying at age 84 in 2003.

Riggs Korsten said she was living quite contently in her paid-off Dobson Ranch home on a lake until one day, she fainted and her son Monty happened to catch her before she hit the floor. 

She stayed at a hospital for a week but numerous tests couldn’t find anything wrong with her other than she was quite weak, she said.

She was sent to rehab but couldn’t do the exercises because both her knees were shot from playing various sports as a youth – swimming, softball, volleyball and tennis.

 Riggs Korsten, who now uses a wheelchair, arrived to The Oaks in 2018.

“I have a strong feeling I don’t belong here sometimes,” she said. “I think I’m too independent. I’m here for the duration.”

Asked for her secret to reaching her milestone birthday, she replied, “Working and not sitting on my butt.”