A child born in 1900 had an average life expectancy of 40. Today, more and more people are living to 100 or older.
West Newsmagazine staff members Bonnie Krueger, Ellen Lampe, Jessica Meszaros and Kate Uptergrove set out to meet some of those local centenarians and garner their secrets to living a long, healthy life in part one of a two-part look at “100 Years & Counting.” Here’s what they had to say:
Rudolph “Rudi”, 105
Friendship Village resident Rudi is a spritely 105-year-old. His wit is sharp and, when asked what is something he has loved most in his long life, he instantly recalled one of his fondest memories.
“I remember especially some of my old buddies, classmates. I remember my good times in New Hampshire at the lake. I grew up in Massachusetts, on the border of New Hampshire. My buddies had a camp on this lake, and we were up there all the time in the summertime – swimming, rowing, canoeing and, in the wintertime, skating,” Rudi said with a smile. His memories of the lake even included a celebrity sighting. “Alan Shepard’s folks had an island there. And Alan Shepard used to go around with a speedboat.”
When asked what’s the secret to living such a long life, Rudi said, matter-of-factly, “There’s no secret; it just happens.” This response was greeted by a light-hearted laugh from the room.
He added, on a more serious note, “I do think relationships make a big difference. It makes life worth living, having affection for other people. Even now, I have a lady friend. I was married one time, for 61 years. We only had one son. He is the one who does my laundry. He takes good care of me. I’m lucky. I keep worrying, if he dies before I do, what will I do?”
When 102-year-old Friendship Village resident Alicia was asked what is something she has loved most in life, she had a simple, one-word response: “Children.”
She elaborated, “I don’t have any children, but I worked with children.”
Through further inquiry, it was revealed that Alicia had quite an unconventional teaching career. She worked both in the United States and overseas in Germany, where she taught children of United States Army families.
She says she spent about 15 years living in Germany.
“Sprichst du Deutsch?” Fellow centenarian and Friendship Village resident, Rudi, interjected. Do you speak German?
“Ja,” she responded. Yes.
Alicia’s secret to living past 100 years old is a straight-forward one: “Work hard.”
A Garden View resident, Ruth is spunky, petite and active. She said she enjoys poker and chocolate ice cream.
“I like to play cards. I’m a big gambler,” Ruth said.
Mid-interview with West Newsmagazine, Ruth abruptly said, “Let’s go somewhere. Let’s walk.” And off we went, walking the halls of Garden view in search of chocolate ice cream. She greeted many friends along the way.
When asked what is something she has loved most in life, Ruth said, “How could I think back? I have no idea! I loved school. And my husband and I had a grocery store. I don’t remember what it was called. We didn’t give it any special name. It was just a corner store and customers came in. I guess we had the store about 50 years and then we sold it.”
An only child, Ruth was born in Cleveland and moved to St. Louis when she was 2 years old. It has been her home ever since.
Ruth is a proud mother, “I have two children, a boy and a girl.” She added with a laugh, “Not everybody knows how to make a combination like that. Some have just two girls, some have two boys. I have one of each!”
Ruth was a loving wife as well. “When my husband passed away, I lost the best friend I ever had.”
When asked if there is a secret to living to 100 years old, Ruth said, “There might be, I have no idea. I have stayed pretty active most of my life. I worked hard. I kept going all the time.”
“Love and be loved,” Delmar Gardens West resident Iona said when asked her secret to a long life. “I have loved many people.”
“Well you do see changes [in the world] but you don’t make anything of them because you’re living in the world and you have to adjust to them. If you sit down and keep crabbing about what’s going on, you’re going to lose time – time with other people.”
“The most wonderful thing that I have witnessed in the last 102 years is just kids,” Iona said, a smile lighting up her eyes. “You are old, but you are not old as long as you have children around you. No. You’re not old then.”
Iona was a teacher officially, but said “I always had kids and people around me that I could relate to or maybe give them a little of what I had. If you give a little, first thing you know it’s going to come back to you.”
“My career was being a mom and a grandma, and a great-grandma and a great-great-grandma,” Iona said. “I’m very thankful.
“In 102 years, I’ve given a little and taken a little and prayed a lot!”
“God just loved me and he’s keeping me here,” Hilda said when asked about her secret for a long life.
As for what she has loved most in her life, Hilda said it’s been “my children and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
When asked what she did in her life, she answered with spunk, “Not a darn thing! I was a spoiled brat. I was the baby of the family.”
When asked if she was her mother’s favorite, she drolly replied, “You have to ask?” And, with that, those gathered in the family room at Delmar Gardens West burst into laughter. “Isn’t the baby always the favorite?”
Then, she came clean. “No, I wasn’t the favorite but being the baby I got whatever I wanted. All I had to do was stamp my foot and they’d say, ‘Here you go, now shut your mouth.’”
Leona, of Delmar Gardens West, said she thinks it’s pretty impressive that she’s lived so long and she credits her longevity to her family.
“Four children, 19 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren – almost all boys,” Leona said.
Her advice is to “live normally like you should, taking care of children and your husband and doing what you should. My husband had Parkinson’s disease. He didn’t get it until his 40s and he lived to be 70. I really tried hard to take good care of him.”
She said her family is what she has loved most in life. “They’re wonderful,” she said, “and I’m so proud of them.”
Rosie’s mother lived to be 101, so she says longevity is in her genes. A talented painter, Rosie has art hanging in multiple locations throughout St. Louis. She said her passion is a hobby, though she did teach classes in her younger years.
A resident of Delmar Garden West, Rosie said one of her paintings is hanging in St. Louis’ first Ronald McDonald House in the Central West End. It’s a life-sized depiction of Ronald McDonald that stands 6-feet tall. Her daughter said Rosie painted it in the mid-80s but that the painting still stands and Rosie had the opportunity last year to see it with her grandson and great-granddaughter.
Her advice for future generations is to keep your mind and body active.
“Exercise and walking, no smoking!” Doughtery Ferry Assisted Living resident Margaret exclaimed when asked about achieving a long life.
“I had a good life, a good family,” she said.
Margaret is the mother of two children, and grandma to four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She said the best advice she could give was: “Love your family and your friends. Love, love!”