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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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Longtime Citrus Heights resident and SJHS grad passes away at age 99


A photo of Arlene Oldham on display during her memorial service, showing a collection of plates from various U.S. states she had visited. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
Born August 24, 1922, Minnie Arlene Smith Oldham was just seven years old when the Great Depression was starting, 14 when she moved to Citrus Heights, 19 when the U.S. entered the second World War, 47 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and 75 when Citrus Heights incorporated.

She saw Citrus Heights grow from a rural farming community to an incorporated suburban city with rows of houses and shopping centers. Her life spanned global conflicts and wars, economic cycles, and 17 presidencies, but friends and family say the biggest legacy Oldham left was her faith.

Also on The Sentinel: Pioneer Baptist moves from historic Citrus Heights church building

Oldham regularly attended Pioneer Baptist Church on Old Auburn Road, where she remained active well-into her 90s. She passed away on June 8, at the age of 99.

Her pastor remembers her as a model of Christian love described in the biblical passage found in First Corinthians 13.

“This woman lived it. That’s what was so amazing to me about it, it was all the time,” said Pastor Kyle Conley at a memorial service for Oldham. “It wasn’t like she had one of those, ‘love suffered long.’ No, this is who she was. Just patient and kind, as I said, she was the epitome of Christian grace like that.”

Oldham was remembered during a celebration of her life held at Pioneer Baptist on July 16. Conley joined Oldham’s daughter, Sue Leamon, and friend Staci Weisz in presenting photographs and stories of Oldham’s life. Weisz said her mother’s determination came from being raised on a farm.

“She had this built in ability to just take things as they come and move on,” Leamon said. “There’s no depression, there’s no sadness or anything. It was just. Yeah, it happened. So what do we do next? Her ability to do that, that started from her young life on the farm and she was able to live her life like that. Just move on to the next thing.”

After graduating from San Juan High School in 1940, Oldham married Jesse Wade Oldham and remained in Citrus Heights, according to her obituary. Their family grew to include three children, as she took a job at the Citrus Heights Post Office where she worked for 26 years.

Leamon said her mother lived in a home constructed out of surplus boxcar lumber on property purchased by Oldham’s father. The property was mostly olive trees at the time, Leamon said.

The Oldhams had three children, 11 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and 14 great-great grandchildren. After her husband passed away, Oldham began traveling, Leamon said. She visited many U.S. states, and even traveled to Israel and Egypt, Leamon said during the presentation that chronicled her life.

A collection of plates from various U.S. states were displayed at the memorial where Leamon invited members of the church to take one as a way to remember her mother. Oldham’s body has been laid to rest at Sylvan Cemetery next to her husband.

Conley remembers Oldham’s determination when the 95-year-old came to church just days after hip surgery. He said Oldham sent over 4,500 hand-written cards to church members on special occasions over the years, and her passing will be felt throughout the congregation.

“It’s going to leave a huge hole in our church because she’s the very fabric,” Conley said. “She was here before I got here.”

One of the last birthday cards Oldham wrote was to Pastor Conley. He received it just days after her passing. Oldham passed away on June 8, just one day before Conley’s birthday. He received a hand-written birthday card from Oldham on June 11, he said.

“She sent it out on her last day…” Conley said as his voice trailed off with emotion. “One of her last acts of love for me was to send me a birthday card when she was on her death bed.”

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