Upside Down Under

Fountain of youth…..

Back in August, the Grand Forks Herald published an article about Iris Westman, a woman from Northwood who had just celebrated her 113th birthday.

By Marvin Baker

Iris was born in 1905 during the time Theodore Roosevelt was president: that was 5 years before the passing of Halley’s Comet, 15 years before radio existed and 19 years before the completion of the Panama Canal.

She remains a farmer, at least on paper, as she rents out the family farm and is unofficially the oldest farmer in the United States.

What do you suppose has given Iris so many years? What is her secret? Just think, this woman was 24 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. Oh, the stories she must have.

In 1969, there were 4,000 people in the United States who were living beyond 100. By 2010, that number had ballooned to nearly 40,000.

Here in North Dakota there were 221 centenarians in 2010, including Iris. Most of them were living in Cass, Burleigh, Ward and Grand Forks counties.

The secret to longevity is varied. Some say it’s a daily shot of whiskey; some say walks in the cold, winter air; others say reading the Bible and still others say they stay as active as they can.

There’s no doubt health care advancements have changed how long people live. All we have to do is look at life expectancy from 1700 to 2000 to realize that.

In 1700, life expectancy in the United States was 35 years. By 1800, it had reached 38, and in 1900 it was up to 47 years old. By 2000, the average American was living to 78 years and now it is up to 79.

Somewhat of a national oddity in these statistics are three men: President John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and President Thomas Jefferson, who all lived well beyond the normal life expectancy of their day.

Adams, for instance, lived to 90. He died of congestive heart failure in 1825 when life expectancy was about 38. Jefferson, who died the same year, was 83. Franklin died in 1790 at age 84. It’s truly remarkable for anyone of this time period.

Today we have more knowledgeable medical professionals and far better technology. Numerous diseases have either been very well controlled or eradicated, and people are more careful. But there is no doubt staying active has a lot to do with it.

As an example, there’s a woman in Watford City and a man in Kenmare, both in their 90s, who are seen in public nearly every day who both look good: they say they feel good most of the time and have both been blessed with good health for a lot of years.

Jim Hillestad, a World War II veteran, is 97 years old and heads down to the Kenmare Senior Center every day to play cards, have lunch and visit with other “spring chickens.”

Jim, who owned an antique dealership for many years, still drives around Kenmare in his black Ford Ranger. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 above zero or 30 below zero, he has his afternoon routine. You’ll see him picking up the mail at the post office before he stops at the senior center.

Grace Allex is 91 and is one of the oldest residents of Watford City. Last weekend, one of her grandsons got married and not only was she at the church for the wedding, but Grace was out at the reception, mingling through the crowd with friends and family and meeting her new in-laws from Kansas.

She is also active in her church groups and likes to visit with people.

Grace is also a wonderful cook and baker. Some of her dishes and desserts are featured at weddings and funerals in Watford City. It’s hard enough for someone of 50 to stand in front of a stove to create a tasty hot dish, let alone someone who is 91.

Finally, there’s Grace Link, the wife of Gov. Art Link. She turned 100 in September with a party on the capitol grounds in Bismarck.

Her family threw the party, but hundreds of well wishers came from all over the United States to help her celebrate her milestone.

Governor Link lived to be 96 and passed away in 2010.

When we think about these people, we have to consider all the changes they have seen in their lifetime. As an example, Grace Link didn’t have electricity growing up with her family in Cartwright. Jim Hillestad accomplished a number of things and did some traveling before World War II broke out, and Grace Allex saw her community grow from less than 200 people to the approximate 8,000 it has now.

If you see any of these people or know someone else in this category, they deserve the respect and admiration of all of us. They earned it.