Home >> Health >> 100 years & counting: Area centenarians share their secrets for a long life [Part 2]

100 years & counting: Area centenarians share their secrets for a long life [Part 2]


On Feb. 6, West Newsmagazine shared the memories of local centenarians along with their secrets to living a long, healthy life. This week, that advice continues:

Ruth, 100

Ruth

Gambrill Gardens resident Ruth grew up in Potomac, Michigan, after her mother and father emigrated to the United States from Germany. At age 2, she was diagnosed with polio and she recalls that only her eyes and ears could function. Currently, Ruby is working on a book about her family’s history, including her family’s work relationships with Laclede Gas and the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. 

When asked what she has loved most in life, Ruby said, “God.”

“My family and I have had many blessings,” she said. 

She has fond memories of Christmases past. 

“The first Christmas I remember was so beautiful. We didn’t have lights like we do now. We had little candles that you would snap onto the branches, sort of like clothespins. Mother would fix the Christmas tree while I took a nap. We had a door that went into the wall … which was closed. Mother would take a sheet and starch it, wet it, and put boxes and crumbled paper in a little mountain under the tree. Then, she’d add snow; it was made from mica. She would sprinkle the mica around there, and it would look so beautiful, like snow on the mountains.”

The secret to a long life? “It’s just all God,” Ruby said. 

In a couple of months, Ruby will celebrate her 101st birthday.

Grace, 100

Grace

Grace grew up on a 200-acre farm in Missouri where she was the youngest of seven children. Now, she resides at Gambrill Gardens. 

She remembers milking cows, washing clothes on scrub boards, helping her family trade goods and quilting with her mother in her youth. 

Grace spearheaded the quilting club at Gambrill Gardens and has helped raise thousands of dollars for local nonprofits. 

She said one of the hardest experiences of her life was when her only son passed away from multiple sclerosis in 2018.

When asked what she has loved most in life, Grace said, “There’s not enough time for me to tell you everything, but since I’ve come here [to Gambrill Gardens], it has been my love of the quilts. These grandmas and great-grandmas come in here and ask, ‘Is that for sale?’ I say ‘Yes,’ and she walks out with it.”

When asked the secret to living such a long life, Grace said, “My doctor wanted to know that. Christmas and Thanksgiving, a year ago, we were talking about food and my son said, ‘Mom, you’ve been on a diet all your life.’ Whenever I went to the store, I never so much thought about prices as much as I did about it being good food. When you’re raised on a farm and you’ve raised your food, you had good food. I always had my own garden. My deep freeze was filled with all homegrown food. I think that’s part of it.”

She also credits independence.

“Even right now, I don’t have anyone to help me with my apartment. I do my own cleaning, I do my laundry. I do everything myself. Except for doing my hair; I can’t hold my arms up long enough to do that myself.”

Raymond, 100 

Ray

Stonecrest of Wildwood resident Raymond, known as Ray, celebrated his 100th birthday in December 2018. 

He grew up on a family farm off Wildhorse Creek Road, where he learned to tend to crops and fix machinery. Ray, along with his father and three brothers, hand-built their two-story home, which is still standing today.

Ray served as an airplane chief mechanic in the U.S. Air Corps in World War II. He was sent to Morocco to assist Gen. George Patton’s invasion force. He repaired pursuit and bombing airplanes behind enemy lines and received a Bronze Star.

Upon returning home, Sontag married his wife, Ruth, in 1947. The couple moved to Ballwin in 1960 and resided there for 50 years. 

“What did I love most in life? I don’t know. I’ve loved just about everything I’ve done,” Ray said. “I grew up on a farm and went into the service as soon as I could. I was 21 years old, but I passed the test to get into the Air Corps. I took a test, and me and other guy got the highest scores they’d ever had. Right away, they put me right to work on repairing airplanes. They started bringing them in from all over the country. My engineering officer had to say, ‘You can’t bring all your troubled airplanes for this man to work on!’ With some planes, they said it couldn’t be done, but I got them back in the air.”

The secret to a long life is simple, he said is, “Just good living. Living the best every day.”

June, 100

June

When asked her secret to a long life, June, a resident of Dougherty Ferry Assisted Living, said, “I was needed by my family.” She has eight children [six are still living], 26 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. 

She said what she has loved most in the world is “all the little people” and she advised young people today to “stay in there and keep fighting.”

“Some days you think you won’t make it, but you will,” she said.

Ruth, 106

Ruth

A resident of Stonecrest of Town & Country, Ruth says her secret to a long healthy life is exercise. 

“I walked every day during my lunch hour – briskly! And I did that every morning after I retired,” Ruth said. “When I was working, I’d get off the bus several blocks before my destination and walk the rest of the way.

“I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink. I didn’t do some of the things that kids do nowadays and I always exercised. I always loved exercise.”

She graduated high school at age 15 and “went to work immediately for the Board of Education at 911 Locust Street.” She worked until her children were born, and then “retired for about 15 years” before going back to work as secretary to the vice president of St. Louis County Water Company.

She worked until she was 70. 

“I was the only one [in my family] who had a job during the depression. My father had died and mama was a widow. You never questioned it, you just handed over your paycheck – and mama was a good money manager,” Ruth said. “I just accepted each day as it came and whatever life threw at me I just accepted it.”

Retirement, she said, gave her “time to have fun.”

Verna, 104

Verna

On Feb. 14, Verna celebrated her 104th birthday at Delmar Gardens of Meramec Valley, so it seemed only logical that we ask this Valentine’s Day baby what she loved most in her life. 

“I have to say my God,” Verna said. “God has a plan for everybody. You never know what door is going to open.

“I call on God quite a bit. My mother started out with the Lord’s Prayer. She told me that whenever I was in trouble, ‘Pray the Lord’s Prayer. God is always with you.’ When I have trouble, I call on God right away. I can’t live without Him.”

She said God and walking were the secrets to a long life. “We walked everywhere. We didn’t care how far it was, we walked. I like walking in the rain – a soft summer rain with an umbrella.”

Verna also loved to dance. 

“When I was 4 years old, we used to go to what they called ‘the movies,’” Verna said. “They had a violin player and a piano player and they would watch the film and they would play the music to hit the film. They were silent movies. And I would be out in the aisle dancing. My mother would motion for me to sit down, but my dad would say, ‘Let her go, let her go. She’s having fun.’”

Her eyes light up at the thought of dancing. 

“I spent a lot of time on the boats – dancing,” she said. “I loved to waltz and Foxtrot and not wild swing but laid-back swing.”

Eventually, she taught dance classes and performed around town. 

“Too many men were in retirement and they weren’t doing anything and the women wanted to get out so we started dance classes at the community schools at the time. We kept a lot of people off of their chairs so we felt like we did something,” she said. “Later, there were eight couples [who] put on a variety show. We were in our 80s at the time.

“We called ourselves the Yellow Birds. We wore yellow T-shirts and white skirts. The man who was running the music one time, said, ‘Come on you Yellow Birds, get out there and show them how to do it.’ And that stuck.”

Life, she said, has been “wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”

Angela, 105

Angela

105-year-old Cape Albeon resident Angela was born and raised in south St. Louis, where she attended St. Anthony Catholic school.

She said she has a lot of good memories in her 100-plus years, many of which involve children. In addition to having children of her own, she was a school teacher for many years. 

“I went to Harris Teachers College. I taught at a rural school in Missouri. I taught all grades. I started out in a one-room school and I’d cook for the kids,” she recalled. 

Angela married and had three children, two girls and a boy, and now has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

She said she has always been interested in fashion, and even did some clothes modeling at the Plaza Frontenac.

As to the secret to living such a long life, Angela says she believes good genes play a part. “I had parents that lived long and grandparents that lived long.” 

Angela is poised to turn 106 this year on July 18.

Elsa, 100 

Elsa

Cape Albeon resident Elsa recently earned the title of “centenarian” when she turned 100 years old on Feb. 2. She celebrated with a big party complete with cake, balloons, gifts and family members who visited from near and far. 

“My mom called me a peace baby because I was born right after World War I ended,” Elsa said. She recalled living in the days before many modern inventions, such as refrigerators. “We had ice boxes. It’s a compartment and it had a spot where you’d put ice. Then every day the ice man comes by in his little truck and the ice is in the back.”

And in the days before Vaseline and Vick’s Vapor Rub, she recalls a more primitive substitute. “When I was a kid and had a cold, my mother would put goose grease on my chest. The best invention in my lifetime was Vaseline because it wasn’t icky and didn’t smell.”

Elsa married and had two children, a son and a daughter. After her first husband died at the age of 55, Elsa eventually re-married. She and her second husband were married for 22 years before he passed away. 

Elsa has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When asked what she has loved most in her long life, she said, “My children. I’m so grateful I have all these kids. Like I said in my speech at my birthday party the other night, Jimmy Stuart [who plays George Bailey] in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ said he’s the luckiest man in the world. And I said I feel like Jimmy Stuart. I’ve had a wonderful life – not an easy life, but a good life.”

As for advice she would impart onto future generations, Elsa said, “Live every day to the best of your ability. Take care of your health.”

Though she added a disclaimer. “Somebody said at my birthday party, ‘Wow, you really must’ve lived a clean life.’ I said, ‘Look, I didn’t live any different than you guys do today,’” she said with a laugh. “I smoked, I drank, I dated, I did everything you kids do today. I kept asking myself, ‘Why am I living so long?’ Because I didn’t live a pristine life. I lived like anyone else does.”

• • •

West Newsmagazine staff members Bonnie Krueger, Ellen Lampe, Jessica Meszaros and Kate Uptergrove contributed to this article.

West Newsmagazine thanks the many senior living communities in our readership area who arranged our interviews with  these amazing centenarians. We always are on the lookout for interesting people, places, events and stories to share. Ideas, photos and press releases, can be submitted to editor@newsmagazinenetwork.com.  

READ: 100 years & counting: Area centenarians share their secrets for a long life [Part 1]

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