True Story: I’m 99 years old, still living at home + walking everywhere

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!

photo by Horia Varlan// cc

17 Comments

Katie

Oh, I love this! I really love speaking with people Lenore’s age and hearing their stories – there’s so much wisdom to share having seen so much of life, and having lived through so many different times. Thank you Lenore for sharing, and Sarah for featuring her!

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Emily Conrad

There’s someone from this generation that I’ve been meaning to write a note to so I can thank her for the example she set for me. Lenore, I’m sure there are so many people you’ve impacted too–including those of us who have read this 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Laura

Bar none, my favourite interview you’ve ever posted, Sarah. How lovely to have the perspective of a wise lady who’s lived through an entire century! My maternal grandmother died in 2011 at age 101, and I regret that I never had an opportunity to hear her story in a similar way. She lived in England and I grew up in Canada so we rarely saw her. By the time I was old enough to appreciate how important an interview like this is, she was suffering from some dementia and having trouble with speech. It’s nice to hear from another of her peers!

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Jemma

What a lovely story! Thank you. Lenore is lucky indeed to have her health and her mind at 99 🙂

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Johanna

What a fun one! I always enjoy hearing from different generations – it’s amazing how much life and history people have witnessed.

Please thank Lenore for sharing.

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Karen

Thank you so much for sharing your story Lenore. It’s so inspiring and heartwarming. Put a massive smile on my face 🙂

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Tracey

This is so encouraging and I appreciate you and Lenora sharing it with us all. I hope to live that long or longer myself. Thanks again and have a great day.
Warmest regards,
Tracey

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Julie

This is so awesome! I had no idea that she did this interview with you. Lenore is my grandmother. She leaves out that she’s a fantastic basketball player, too. I learned to play pool in her basement and swam at the cabin by Farm Island Lake in the summers growing up. So many wonderful memories with a wonderful woman. Love her so, so much!! <3

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Jane Closuit

That’s my Grandma! Small world! I am in Fairbanks, Alaska and my sister found this piece on line 🙂 It was a fantastic read!! I know a lot of Grandma’s stories already, but how she met Grandpa is new to me!! I love this lady with all of my heart and it is good to see that other people love her story as well. Thank you for writing this and interviewing my Grandmother Lenore!

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Sarah Von Bargen

Jane! What a small world – how sweet! Lenore really is an inspiration. <3

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Jess Lonett

“I think I’m more patient with others and with myself.” i loved this sentiment so much. i hope i continue to grow more patient with myself and others over time 🙂

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