Old Timers Day

Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Up until a couple weeks ago, Mary Josephine Ray had been planning her own birthday party but after hanging around this earth for 114 years 294 days, Mary finally gave up the ghost at a Westmoreland, New Hampshire nursing home on Sunday.Mary Josephine RayHer granddaughter says she was a vigorous woman who enjoyed life and active pretty much right up to the end.
That leaves the title of oldest living American to Neva Morris of Ames, Iowa. At 114 years 216 days, she has outlived all four of her children except a son who resides in Sioux City and a 90 year old son-in-law who lives in the same care center  she does.
During my long stretch as a reporter with Keloland, I was always getting calls and letters from relatives of someone who was either turning 100 or celebrating a birthday in excess of the century mark. “Yeah, mom is a little hard of hearing,” they’d say,“ but she’s pretty alert.”
So a photographer and I would head off to some nursing home where we’d find that family members had fixed up granny’s hair bought her a new dress and propped her up in a wheel chair.
When we turned the lights on for an interview, she’d shield her eyes from the brightness which meant you couldn’t see her face and then I’d have to yell out questions to which I’d usually just get a confused yes or no answer.
Now, please don’t think that I’m making fun of the mega-elderly, I’m not. But the truth is most of the dear old things that I’ve tried to squeeze a few words out of..like the obligatory “What’s your secret to a long life?” just wanted us to turn those blasted lights off and go away.
So, that was my attitude in 1998 when I got a call inviting me over to Larchwood to do a story on George Schreurs who was about to turn 100. I’m not sure if it was his son being so convincing on the phone that peaked my interest or if I was just desperate for a story, but off we went.
It turns out that George Schreurs had seemingly discovered the fountain of youth because he managed to stop aging at 70 or so. He greeted us with a big smile on his face at the door of his own house where he lived alone. He had a Cadillac in the driveway which he drove everyday..either to visit his wife, Mildred, at a nursing home in Garretson, or to his son’s farm where he still helped out occasionally.
During the interview he wasn’t bothered at all by the bright lights and must have wondered why I felt it necessary to talk so loud. He told me about the ritual of fixing breakfast for his family every Sunday morning; his usual breakfast consisting of bacon and eggs with plenty of real butter for the toast. He also admitted to enjoying a little nip now and then. “Keeps me young,” he winked.
“What else keeps you going?” I asked.
“Well, I like to play cards,” he said. And with that he invited me to jump in his Caddie to go for a ride. He drove around town a bit, talked about his beloved wife and then parked in front of the pool hall. Inside, the place had been decorated up for his birthday and a big crowd of people had gathered waiting to yell “surprise” when George walked in.   
He joyfully posed for lots of pictures, ate a big slab of birthday cake and, I believe, was enjoying a brewed beverage at the card table with his pals when we had to leave.
I want to live a long time but, as George would say, it’s not the years in your life but the life in your years.
A few months after our visit, George’s wife of 69 years, passed away.
George finally moved out of his house and into a facility at Inwood but stayed active..enjoying all those taboo foods, a game of cards and a little nip now and then all the way to age 103 when he died.
Long after our interview that day, I ran into somebody from Larchwood and asked if he knew George and whether or not he was still among the living.
“Well,” the guy said, “ If you’re ever at the Casino in Flandreau, you can ask him yourself.”

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