photo by Horia Varlan// cc
This interview is particularly close to my heart. Lenore is from my hometown of Aitkin, MN. She’s actually in a book club with my mom and her husband delivered me when I was born! At her request, I did not include any photos.
You’re 99, still living at home alone, and still walking everywhere. What’s your secret to staying so healthy?
Well, I guess I’ve always been health conscious. I didn’t realize it when I was growing up but I always ate a lot of vegetables. We had a vegetable garden and most days we’d probably eat seven servings of vegetables. I’m sure it was organic, but of course we didn’t think about things like that back then.
And I’ve always walked a lot. We lived about a mile from town and we didn’t have a car till I was about 14 and I walked every place. I walked to school, to college, I probably walked a few miles every day. Every Saturday I’d go to the YMCA and do exercises. I still walk often. I just wear my tennis shoes.
Good genes help, too. Daddy lived to be 98 and Mother was 89.
I just quit working last year; I think that’s probably one of the secrets to longevity. I worked in my husband’s doctor’s office for years and then after he closed the office, I worked at the health food store for 19 years. I really liked it; I miss working! When I worked for Fred, we opened the office at 8 so I had to be up early. These days, sometimes I lie in bed till 9 – that sounds so slovenly!
You must have experienced so many relationships and friendships in your life. What do you think the key is to long lasting relationships?
I think you have to give as much as you get. I call them up and invite them for lunch and we just talk about our lives.
But most of my childhood friends are dead now or in nursing homes. I’ve only got one friend left in South Carolina where I grew up, but she doesn’t know her own family anymore. When her daughter was there visiting she asked her about me, but she just said “Do I know her?” and she was my best friend all through school.
And the secret to a happy marriage? Well, if we were having an argument and I couldn’t think of anything else to say without getting really mad, I’d go for a walk. By the time I got back I’d cooled off and he probably had, too. At least it worked for me, I don’t know what he did. I guess he just sat there and waited till I got home.
But we didn’t fight too much, we agreed on most things. I met him in July and in September we were married.
How did you meet your husband Fred?
Well, I was in medical school at the time and he was too. I wanted a summer job to help pay for the next year’s tuition so I took a job in Winona. That summer Fred went to ROTC camp in St. Louis and met a guy I was dating. When my boyfriend at the time found out Fred was from Winona he told him that I was there and didn’t know anyone so he should call me up.
So when Fred got home he called me up … and that was it. My boyfriend was just crushed. We’d been going together since high school; I had his fraternity pin. He drove out to see me but I said “Len, I’ve fallen for somebody else.” He was pretty upset but he got over it.
What was life like once you got married?
The war came and I didn’t know what to do. I went in and talked to the dean of my medical school. Should I drop out and go around with Fred while he trained for the army or stay in school in Nashville? The dean said that my grades were good but he thought I should go with my husband.
You grew up in a city in the south. How did you end up in rural Minnesota?
After Fred came back from the war, he wanted to start practicing. He got a list of places that needed doctors and Aitkin was on the list. I’ll never forget the first time we came. It was January and it was so, so cold. Oh, it was just awful. The streets were gravel and there weren’t any sidewalks. It was just the dumps. I couldn’t help but think “Why in the world did you bring me to this place?” It was supposed to be for just a month! We came here in 1946. It’s 2015 and I’m still here, so I guess this is where the good lord meant for me to be.
What do you see as the most significant change in science or technology that you’ve experienced?
I think the thing that impressed me the most was walking on the moon. I was sitting on the porch looking at the moon, and here it came on tv and it showed them walking around up there and I just couldn’t believe it. It’s just unbelievable to me still! A lot of important things have happened since then, but that’s what really got to me. I’m just in awe of all the things we’ve done in space.
If you could go back in time and give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
“Finish medical school.” I just lacked a year and a half. I wanted to be a pathologist.
How have your perceptions of others changed as you’ve gotten older?
I think I’m more patient with others and with myself.
What makes you happy as a grandmother?
Just to see my grandkids happy. To see them live successful lives – both financially and otherwise.
What are you most proud of?
I guess I’m proud of Fred’s work and how I helped. He really helped a lot of people. He was the only doctor in town for a long time, so he helped just about everyone. He couldn’t have done all that without me; I do feel that I was an asset to his work. I did all the lab work and all the office work. I enjoyed working, I got to know a lot of people. I can still walk down the street in this town and people recognize me and say hello.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Lenore!