Erica Sullivan - The Traveling Lady

Mar 31, 2015

Erica Sullivan
Credit Courtesy Erica Sullivan
It’s March 31 – the last day of Women’s History Month. Over the previous weeks, women from across the country have been honored for their contributions to or participation in historic events. In acknowledgement of her long, varied, interesting, exciting and sometimes dangerous life, we visited with a centenarian who bicycled across France during World War Two…and just kept traveling.

In reflecting back on her century of life, Erica Sullivan says the time that remains most vivid is the year she spent in France trying to escape Hitler’s expansion across Europe.

“Everyone went down in France and we went up,” Erica recalls. “We wanted to get to England. But every port had been mined. So we spent from May 10 to….sometime in February in France.”

Riding a tandem bicycle, Erica and her husband, followed the Tour de France route to the Pyrenees, were sidetracked in Marseilles…then to the French coast. Before long, she was on her way to New York City…via Martinique.

Belgian civilians fleeing westwards away from the advancing German army, 12 May 1940.
Credit Courtesy Imperial War Museum

“We were on an empty freighter…small empty freighter,” explains Erica. “And that was repatriating Martinique soldiers home. They had a group of German writers who The Pen Club got to New York. And that was the first time I became a feminist. My first question was…’Where are the female writers? There weren’t any.”

That was 1940. By the following year, Erica was living in New York City and working as a secretary and bookkeeper. Her husband had enlisted in the U.S. Army and returned to Europe. Since he could speak English, French, German and Flemish, he was given a job as a translator.

“And how many languages do you speak?” I ask. 
“I spoke three,” Erica replies. “I now speak one.”

Erica continued her employment in Los Angeles for the duration of the war. When she was reunited with her husband after his discharge and 5 years separation, she found he was a changed man. They eventually divorced.

Gradually, Erica made her way into the world of Hollywood, working for Lawrence Welk…who she never met…and actress Loretta Young…who she did.

“Totally professional,” Erica remembers. “She could have done every job at the studio better than anyone else…personally.” 

Erica Sullivan - 100 years and two months.
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

Several years later, Erica found herself working on the same lot as Captain James T. Kirk, First Officer Spock and their creator…Gene Rodenberry, who she used to have lunch with.

“We started because he was a producer/director and he couldn’t figure out which part was striking,” explains, Erica.

The ups-and-downs of Hollywood’s unions aside, Erica recalls Star Trek’s humble beginnings.

“And it was a one-year thing that at that point…it was dead,” Erica recalls. “And then all the people who loved it started talking and it came back forever.”

It was during those Hollywood years that Erica met and married her second husband.

When he traveled to Australia to produce some short films in Sydney, Erica went with him. Twelve months later, the couple stopped off in Hawaii for what was intended to be a 3-week vacation. They stayed in Honolulu for 10 years.

“The weather is perfect,” Erica observes. “And life was…interesting.”

While there, Erica became involved in politics on a local scale as an activist.

Her next move brought Erica back to California and a job her husband had with Universal Studios, where they remained until his death in 1987.

Erica Sullivan explains her Kindle to Wila Kent.
Credit Photo by Jim Kent

Searching for someplace totally unique to live, and always liking to move forward towards something new and different, Erica decided on Las Vegas.

“It was the only place I could think of where we had no connection,”  explains Erica.

Erica remained in Nevada until relocating to Rapid City with the new millennium. She says she loves the Black Hills and has no plans to move again. Considering the many trails she’s traveled, that’s entirely understandable.

As for her long life and longevity, Erica Sullivan offers these succinct words of advice.

“Each have to find your own way,” offers Erica.

Erica Sullivan continues to find her own way at…”100 years and 2 months”…by swimming laps twice each week, checking her e-mail regularly, going to the movies, going out to lunch and exploring her newest piece of technology…her Kindle.

And though it’s been quite a while since Erica Sullivan rode tandem through France, the lesson she learned during that time…live in the present, not in the past…remains a part of her. 

Related stories: 

http://listen.sdpb.org/post/centenarian-shares-story-alps-through-wwii-hollywood

http://listen.sdpb.org/post/centenarian-bicycled-france-during-wwii  

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (instrumental)

Les Bicyclettes De Belsize - Mireille Mathieu