Rose Torphy has had a large life.
At 103, she's the matriarch of a family with five generations now below her. She loves bowling, traveling, and watching poker. Every afternoon, she takes her daily glass of wine into her bedroom to toast a photo of her late husband of more than six decades, Ralph: "Here's to you: no one better, no one damn near as good."
And Torphy has just become the oldest-ever junior park ranger at the Grand Canyon National Park—which is three years younger than she is, and is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its designation this week.
"It was a special occasion," Torphy says of her swearing-in ceremony. "I enjoyed every minute of it."
Torphy visited the park with her husband in 1985 and fell in love with it. "We thought it was the most marvelous thing," Torphy says in an interview at her home in Fox Lake, Illinois, an exurb about an hour north of Chicago. "We always talked about it to the kids. I always told them it was something they have to go to see."
But, she says, she never went back until last month. She and her daughter, Cheri Stoneburner, took a trip to visit Stoneburner's daughter, who works at the canyon. There, Torphy recreated a photograph she'd taken with her husband more than 30 years ago, sitting in a chair President Theodore Roosevelt had sat in, and went all the way up to the edge of the great expanse—something she didn't get to do during her and Ralph's quick senior bus trip in the '80s. At the conclusion of the January visit, she was sworn in as a junior park ranger. Her job duties? To spread the word about the park's beauty and virtues.
"Everywhere she goes, she wears [her park ranger badge] on her coat," Stoneburner says. "She tells everybody all about it."
Torphy's love of nature began as a child. Born in Superior, Wisconsin, in 1915, she went with her family to a different lake every weekend, when—she's quick to note—a night in a cabin cost just a dollar. Her appetite for adventure continued after she met Ralph, with whom she traveled extensively until his death in 1999. "We planned vacations around going to see the world," Torphy says. "We had a wonderful life."
In all her travels, which included Belgium, where her parents emigrated from more than 100 years ago, the Grand Canyon stood out, and she was always sure to tell her kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and great-great grandkids about it. She's seen a lot change over the years—a woman who remembers the advent of radio has lived long enough to become a viral sensation online—but was pleased to see the Grand Canyon was mostly as she'd remembered it.
"The area had grown up a little," Torphy says. "But the canyon still looked the same, and it was wonderful."
Now, Torphy is getting to promote the park to a wider audience, not least during an appearance on Good Morning America that she remains incredulous about.
For the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the not-for-profit organization that funds the junior ranger program and conducted Torphy's swearing-in, that means a charming new spokesperson for the park, which was established on February 26th, 1919, by President Woodrow Wilson and today attracts more than six million visitors a year.
"People like Rose help us educate the public to ensure this natural wonder is here for the next 100 years," Susan Schroeder, the group's chief executive officer, wrote in an email.
For Torphy, it's just one more achievement in an extraordinary run.
"I'm lucky," she says in the home she's shared with her daughter since November, surrounded by photographs of her family, turning over in her hands a locket containing a photograph of Ralph. "I feel blessed."