Irene Hand Roberts just turned 103 and as far as we know, she is the oldest living Shriners Hospitals for Children patient! Irene was born on April 28, 1917, at her grandmother’s restaurant and boarding hotel in McLaughlin, South Dakota.
In July 1923, at the age of 6, Irene developed what was called infantile paralysis, but is now known as polio. The Hand family and local doctors tried many remedies to help Irene, but they were all unsuccessful. Irene’s luck changed when a small town horse-and-buggy doctor named Dr. Twining, who by chance was a Shriner, referred Irene to the newly opened Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Minnesota, thus beginning Irene’s long and very hard road to recovery.
Irene spent many months at the Shriners Hospital in Minnesota. Her right leg recovered, but her right arm never did. Irene never let having a paralyzed right arm slow her down, though.
Back home Irene had to work very hard to catch up, as she had missed her entire second-grade year. With only one good arm, she experienced many challenges. Yet as time went on, Irene adjusted to her new life and learned how to do things differently.
In 1930, Irene’s father moved the family to Miles City, Montana, after finding work as a railroad policeman for the Milwaukee Railroad. Irene was a determined young woman. After graduating from high school, she was in the first graduating class at the new Eastern Montana College in Billings, Montana, where she earned her teaching degree. After graduating, Irene taught school for one year in a one-room school in Ismay, Montana.
Irene met and married Byron Roberts when she was 21, and they have eight children spread out over 22 years. Irene has quite a few grandchildren, and two of her grandsons and one great-grandson played in the Montana East-West Shrine Football game! The family feels this is one way they have given back for the care Irene received from Shriners Hospital.
Read news coverage of Irene's birthday drive-by celebration on KTVH Montana.
Read news coverage of Irene's birthday celebration on the Helena, Montana, Independent Record.
As a surprise for her 103rd birthday, Shriners Hospitals for Children patients and staff, as well as Imperial Potentate Jeffrey Sowder, put together this video for Irene: