A video clip of two 100-year-old best friends, Alice Jensen and Irene Cook, recently bombarded the Internet (youtube.com/watch?v=73ZzBcjVcrk). They’ve known each other for 94 years, can finish each other’s sentences like pros, and are pretty savvy for being centenarians (meaning they are over 100 years old). They know what “selfies” are, and one of them knows who Justin Bieber is (she mistakenly and hilariously calls him Justin Beaver). They also know the secret to lifelong happiness and friendship. And you’d have to in order to tolerate someone for that long!
The viral video made me wonder what nuggets of wisdom nearly century-old seniors from our region might share. So I tracked a few of them down to find out the secret to a healthy, happy, and long life. And although most of them didn’t care about Justin Bieber, the new iPhone operating system, or give a hoot what a selfie was, they had some pretty interesting and uplifting advice for the rest of us.
Meet 91-year-old Clarice Skjonsby, affectionately known as Nana to almost everyone including her seven children, 16 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Having outlived most of her 15 siblings, Clarice is as whip smart as they come. She reads, plays Scrabble, writes poetry, loves to watch the Twins, and has recently become a Bison football fan. When I asked her what a selfie was, Clarice thought for a moment and then cautiously replied, “Well, I suppose it’s a self-centered person.” Hmmmm, she may be on to something there.
“I think things were much easier in my day,” Clarice says. “People are too unsettled because they have too many things to think about.” And while time marches on and we make our way through 2014, Clarice points out the silver lining. “At the end of the day, people are people. If you’re a good friend, a good sister or brother or mother or father, and you get along with your fellow man, you’re doing the best that you can. That’s all anyone can ask for.”
Those who know Clarice describe her as virtuous, strong, independent, and kindhearted—definitely a woman with values. She credits much of her beliefs about life and happiness to her rural North Dakota upbringing and close-knit family. “I’ve always thought family was the most important thing. Family comes first.” And although many of her siblings have passed, she recollects memories of closeness and a yearly must-attend family reunion. “We always supported each other and had a strong bond that was really driven by my mother.”
Gordon “Bob” Boyer, a 93-year-old, matter-of-fact man credits his life accomplishments to education. In a simple mantra, Bob’s advice for life is, “Stay in school. Read lots of books.”
Bob says growing up on a farm didn’t necessarily pave the way for an education. “I had lots of wild adventures out in the country. I used to hunt fox.” He says he and his friends would take his black bay horse, Dick, out with the hounds and hunt fox. He recalls fondly, “There was one time I caught a fox with my gloved hands!” But in the back of his mind, he always planned to go to college. And he did just that.
Majoring in economics and counseling at NDSU, Bob went on to work with delinquent youths at a state-run detention facility. “It was hard work and not a lot of money, but very rewarding.” He doesn’t know if he would do it again and advises kids to do something they are really passionate about, but that also pays the bills. “I lost my dad when I was 10, so I thought I would be able to help other kids.”
Bob was married for many years, until his wife died from Alzheimer’s-related complications. When asked his advice on marriage, he smiles. “Well, people can be friends and get married, but to maintain a relationship is tricky business. Make sure you pick the right partner.”
Loal Tufte, a former school teacher, celebrated her 101st birthday earlier this year and is one of the most spry and talkative seniors around. Her warm smile is infectious, and she has stories about her love of farm life and animals—and she talks until the cows come home. “I just loved growing up with animals,” Loal says. She specifically remembers being around a plethora of cats in her youth and beams when she recalls crumbling up hamburger to feed to the ravenous beasts.
When asked what advice she would give the younger generation, she stresses the importance of keeping family nearby and respecting parental wishes. “You should enjoy your life; it’s too short to be unhappy,” Loal laughs and claps her hands gleefully, “but you should listen to your parents and do what they tell you. They know better!” A mother of three children and married for nearly 50 years before her husband passed away, Loal clearly has no regrets about her life. Maybe that’s the secret to making it to 101.
The very unique and proper Ms. Elinor Meyer, age 92, never married or had children, unusual for women of her generation. Stating she never seemed to find the right person, Elinor’s cautious decorum can be summed up in two words that have taken her to her ninth decade: “Think twice!” she says with a broad smile and bright eyes, shaking her finger. “Think twice! The world is very different today and it’s easy to go wrong, so before you make any decision, you’ve really got to think it over.”
A government secretary for over 50 years, Elinor says she relied heavily on her eight brothers and sisters for companionship and tells of her childhood living on a dairy farm where she was taught manners and propriety. She urges young people to always be good neighbors and keep smiling. “No one likes a sourpuss. Why not be jolly instead?” Wouldn’t life be better if we just smiled more?
Sweet, smart, and sharp-witted describe Gladys Pranke. At 91 years old, Gladys still quotes her mother when she talks about ways to live a happy and fulfilling life. “Pay attention to what your mother told you. She’s not just making noise; she’s wise and you will thank her one day.”
While she has much to be thankful for, Gladys has seen her share of heartache. She outlived two husbands and recently lost her long-time boyfriend. Gladys said that despite losing love three times, she’d rather have loved and lost than never experienced love at all.
Gladys credits her joyful disposition to her religious upbringing. “I think religion helps play a key role in being a good person,” says Gladys, whose mother read Bible stories to her and her siblings every night. “My mother always said, ‘If you can’t say something nice, keep your mouth shut.’” And then she jokes, “So, I didn’t have a lot to say sometimes.”
Her advice to parents after having three kids of her own: “I think, especially now, parents need to pay more attention to their kids. In my day, there weren’t so many options; now everything is big. And they’re only so little for so long. Enjoy that time, mothers and dads.”
A hundred years is a long time. And at the thought of turning nearly a century old, it would seem that older folks might have grown tired of the ins and outs of daily life, maybe even given up on life. But these five seniors—who collectively have nearly 500 years of memories, stories, and advice—laugh and smile and talk as if it were a brief moment in time.
Think about it and learn from their advice, because in the blink of an eye, you might be 100, too.
A North Dakota native, Megan Bartholomay is a freelance writer and editor with an addiction to grammar, cats, wine, and good food. She lives in downtown Fargo with her husband, Mike, and their bevy of fuzzy babies.
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