At 94, Grandmother stays on duty for Soldiers and Airmen

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD – At 94 years old, Julia Santiago is still young at heart. And, she says, a big part of her youthful spirit is her part-time job at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, her employer for the last 44 years.

“I don’t plan to slow down. I’m very satisfied,” said Santiago, who has two grown children and five grandchildren.

Since 1971, Santiago has devoted herself to military members, families and retirees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord working at the Exchange. Today, she works at the Madigan Army Medical Center Subway.

On May 4, her 94th birthday, Santiago’s co-workers and customers feted her with cards, gifts and cake in the food court—all a surprise.

Santiago grew up in Puerto Rico. After World War II, she worked in New York manufacturing aerial bombing targets. She moved to Washington State with her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Castor Luis Santiago, who served in the Army, including a tour in Vietnam.

At 50 years old, once her two children were grown, Santiago wanted to find employment. A friend suggested the Exchange, and the rest is history. 

“Everyone knows Julia,” said Paul Claxton, Exchange restaurant business manager.

Santiago’s wit and charm aren’t slowing down, either. The best part of her job is washing dishes “because no one bothers me,” she said with a laugh.  

For Santiago, the longevity of her career—and her advice to those in the working world—can be explained simply.

“Be nice,” Santiago said. “Be nice to customers. Be nice to managers. Just be nice.”