POCATELLO — It’s been said that an elephant never forgets, but for 104-year-old Pocatello resident Naomi Wilde, it was her who will never forget the elephant.
Wilde turned 104 on June 6 and to celebrate she struck an item off her bucket list Tuesday afternoon by hopping on the back of an elephant named Daphne during the El Korah Shrine Circus hosted at the Pocatello fairgrounds.
“I got my wish,” Wilde said after her ride concluded. “I didn’t think it would ever happen but it finally did. It was so neat just up there rocking back and forth.”
Wilde is a resident of the Brookdale assisted living center in Pocatello. Her goal of one day riding an elephant developed during a conversation with another resident at Brookdale, Wilde said.
“A while ago, one of the girls at the home and I were talking about how people get honored all across the United States for wishes that they want,” Wilde said. “So she asked me what my wish would be and told me she was going to write a letter about it. I told her, ‘Well, I’d like to ride an elephant.’ I thought that was as far as it would go but it kept progressing along and here I am.”
Brookdale employees worked with the El Korah Shrine Circus to turn Naomi’s elephant ride wish into a reality during the circus’ visit to Pocatello this week.
Born in Cleveland, Idaho, which is now a ghost town off of Highway 34 about 20 miles south of Grace, Wilde grew up in the Mink Creek area of Franklin County.
The oldest of five children and the only girl, Wilde helped raise her younger brothers when her mother died when she was 13 years old. All of her siblings reached at least 90 years old, she said.
Many years ago as a youth, Wilde watched the world-famous shows of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which stopped touring in 2017 after 146 years of performing.
“I don’t remember much really except the girls that swung back and forth on the trapeze,” Wilde said. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that. I’d have to lose a little of this butt first.”
Though Wilde had the ride of her life Tuesday afternoon on the back of an elephant, it was not her first wild ride. Normally, Wilde spends her birthdays riding on the back of a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle with her good friend Steve Call, a longtime Pocatello bricklayer.
“She has a good friend who has a Honda Gold Wing and every year on her birthday he comes out and gives her a ride,” said Naomi’s son Dean Wilde of Pocatello. “It was rainy the day of her birthday this year though, so he didn’t come up. Her eyesight is not good but other than that she is sharp as a tack. She gets up on the Gold Wing and off she goes.”
Tuesday wasn’t the first day Naomi made headlines for a remarkable feat. In 2016, local newspapers and national orthopedic journals wrote about her total knee replacement surgery.
“She has the oldest knee replacement on record,” Dean said. “She was 101 when she received a total knee replacement.”
Dr. Gregory Hicken of the Franklin County Medical Center in Preston performed the surgery.
“The doctor told me that I had made history and I asked why,” Naomi said. “He told me I was the oldest person on record to receive a total knee replacement. I said, ‘Well guess what, you made history too because you did it.’”
Dean said his mother operates with a great moral compass and that’s why she’s lived so long.
“She is somewhat of a thrill-seeker,” Dean said. “But really, she just has an outlook on life that we all should try to emulate — very positive, loves people and wants to experience life. When my dad died he was 96 and she was 92. Usually at that time the other spouse is just going to give up and she just said, ‘Not me.’”
But if you were to ask Naomi for the secret of her longevity and what it takes to reach age 104, she’d be frank in her response.
“Diet Pepsi and gambling” is what Naomi frequently tells the nursing staff at Brookdale. On Tuesday, she told the Journal her secret to living so long was raising three boys.
And although she hasn’t yet cashed in on her birthday motorcycle ride this year, she did win $800 at the Fort Hall Casino on her birthday.
“My husband and I would go down to St. George in Utah so we would always stop in Mesquite,” Naomi said about her love of gambling. “All the women would get together and stay at the casino all day long. Now I have to wait every other week for the shuttle to take me out to Fort Hall.”
Now that one item has been stricken from her bucket list, Naomi said it’s back to the drawing board for next year.
“I don’t know,” Naomi said about what her next bucket list item will be. “But now that this is over with I can start thinking about it.”