The room is strewn with balloons and a banner tacked over the room’s mirror reads “Happy Birthday” in colorful letters as Juanita Ybarra is wheeled into the room by a team of healthcare workers Saturday at Spanish Meadows of Brownsville.

A small party is in full swing now that the guest of honor is here, and the nurses and staff, alongside Ybarra’s oldest son Elias and granddaughter Darci, take turns snapping photos and taking videos with her.

A tiara and sash are procured for Ybarra, and staff help her get them settled over her new cream-colored satin dress and freshly done hair.

It isn’t every day that a resident is about to turn 104.

Ybarra’s actual birthday is today, but staff wanted to throw her a small party ahead of the get-together she’ll have with her family on the day.

At 104, Ybarra is the oldest resident at Spanish Meadows of Brownsville, which is something to celebrate.

“It’s an honor that we have someone here at 104 and we got excited,” Dora Zamarripa LVN said.

Together she and the staff got a cake, Ybarra’s favorite strawberry-filled, and decorated the room to make the day special.

“Somebody donated the dress and to fix her hair. Between all of us we all got together and got it done,” Esmi Ayala LVN said.

The party was a surprise not only for Ybarra, but for Elias and Darci who came down from Michigan to visit her that day.

“We didn’t know anything about what was happening. I just happened to ask the nurse ‘do you dress her like this every day’ and they said no that there was going to be something going on,” Elias Ybarra said. “Which was really nice.”

Ybarra was born on May 16, 1917, in Poteet, Texas, one of sixteen children in a farming family.

According to her oldest son, she met her husband, Ignacio Ybarra, at church in Brownville. They had two children together and moved to Michigan shortly after. After Ignacio’s death in 1966, Ybarra moved back to Brownsville and bought a house next to her sister’s on West Saint Charles Street in 1970.

“We’ve been blessed. God has given us a blessing that a lot of us strive for. We just happened to be blessed and we thank God for that, that we are able to still have our mother around,” Elias said.

A devout Pentecostal, Ybarra loved to spread the word of God when she was able and visited the local prison and senior living facilities to share her spirit. Her family speaks of her as a mentor and a pillar of faith and immeasurable resilience in their lives.

“My grandma has been my rock, my strength. She has been the one who has kept me along with God. Our spiritual connection with one another, even miles and miles away, there is a connection that we have,” Darci said. “I call her my ‘Triple-G Granny’ and I believe that she is blessed, blessed beyond measure. I’m very thankful for her to still be here.”

While Saturday’s party was a loud and festive affair as staff popped in and out to wish Ybarra “Happy Birthday”, today’s family get-together will be about spending time.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Elias and his children have been unable to visit for close to two years. He’s prepared family videos and group video conferences with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren for Ybarra to try and make up for the time that’s been lost.

“We’ll spend a little time together and try to reminisce,” he said.

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