A common expression for maximum effort is “giving 110 percent.”
A Nebraska woman seemingly lived life to the max before dying Saturday — on her 110th birthday.
It's not fair to say Eleanor Wrede Nielsen reached very old age effortlessly, but neither did she kill herself (so to speak) with a difficult regimen just to see how many years she could stay alive.
“I don't think it's a big deal,” she said as her recent birthday approached. “I just think it's something that's happened to me.”
Moreover, she didn't just live a large quantity of years. To the end, she lived quality years.
Impressive. Especially to an expert such as Julie Masters, chairwoman of the gerontology department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
People want to live long, but many hate growing old.
“We are afraid to grow old,” Masters said, “and yet it can be the best part of our lives.”
Yes, she added, longevity genes make a difference, especially to reach 110. But she said people can and should plan for old age — and for being in the best possible physical, mental and psychological shape in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
“Certain things we can't avoid or are out of our control,” the professor said. “But for some things, we can make a difference.”
Eleanor Nielsen stayed busy. Until arthritis stopped her five years ago, she played waltzes and Mozart on a baby grand piano.
“Up until a few days prior to her death, she stayed very active,” said Michelle Schommer of the Heritage of Bel-Air nursing home in Norfolk, Neb. “Parties, games, musical programs, church services. She was very social and visited well with everyone.”
In an interview with Grace Petersen of the Norfolk Daily News published two days before her death, Eleanor said most people didn't believe she was approaching 110.
“I've heard that so many times, you know, it makes me so that I didn't want to tell anyone my age anymore,” she said. “But now I've finally got so that I can take it.”
She was born in West Point, Neb., and spoke only German at first. Her family moved to a farm near Crofton, where she drank lots of fresh milk, played the piano and enjoyed barn dances. When she was 17, the family moved to Bloomfield, and she worked 19 years as a bookkeeper for the telephone company.
She turned down seven marriage proposals from various suitors, she said, until marrying Oluf “Pete” Nielsen when she was 34.
Their only child was a son who died of pneumonia at 18 months, a tragedy she said she always found difficult to talk about.
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.|
For years she worked with her husband at their Nielsen Chevrolet dealership. Pete retired in 1955 and died in 1975.
Until 2010, Eleanor lived on her own in Bloomfield. At the nursing home in Norfolk, she continued to exercise and to look much younger than her age. Her funeral was Wednesday at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Bloomfield.
We live in an area of the country with the highest proportion of people reaching 100. North Dakota ranks first, followed by South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.
Many of us are descended from hardy immigrant pioneers, so maybe that helps. Said the UNO gerontologist: “Nebraskans just have this constitution that allows them to live longer.”
Masters and colleague Lyn Holley created a program called “Future Self” that encourages people to plan for old age. Not just financially but also physically, socially, environmentally, psychologically and spiritually.
“It's thinking about the future beyond saving for retirement,” Masters said. “It's being able to maximize the years given to us.”
The program was created for the classroom but is available for churches, civic groups and other organizations.
“We think of aging as a static event, but it's very much a process,” she said. “Exercise is the magic bullet in how you can age well. Research tells us time and again that physical activity makes a world of difference.”
Average life expectancy from birth in the United States is about 78, lower for men and higher for women. But people who reach the ages of, say, 65 to 75, the gerontologist said, might live well beyond that average because they already have outlived things that might have taken them earlier, such as accidents, congenital anomalies, childhood diseases and violence.
She encourages students not only to eat healthfully for a long life but also to take other steps. For instance, young women should build bone mass so the effects of osteoporosis are not so great as they age.
E.A. Kral of Wilber, Neb., a volunteer researcher for the Nebraska Health Care Association, said the oldest Nebraskan today is Mable Steiner Ragan of Albion, whose 112th birthday is Friday.
Second-oldest is now Emily Bouc of Wahoo at 108.
Baby boomers, ages 49 to 67, may recall the Walt Disney TV character Jiminy Cricket, who sang: “I'm no fool, no sirree, I'm gonna live to be 103. I play safe for you and me 'cause I'm no fool.”
No foolin,' playing safe is important. But no matter how hard we try, relatively few of us live to be 103.
Let alone Emily's 108, Eleanor's 110 or Mable's 112.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, email@example.com,/i>