Seniors over 90 celebrate their secrets to long lives

Joe and Wilma Ablett join other seniors for 90-plus Spectacular event.


BG Independent News


The seniors got all gussied up Monday to celebrate their longevity and share more than nine decades of stories. The wall was lined with walkers as they sat around tables and caught up with old friends.

“We want to celebrate the residents of Wood County who are 90-plus,” said Alisha Nenadovich, sales manager at Brookdale, as she pinned corsages onto each senior who entered.

“It gives them a chance to see people they don’t normally see,” but people who they attended school or church with decades ago, Nenadovich said.

This was the sixth year of the 90-plus Spectacular sponsored by several senior organizations and held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. In many ways it was like a reunion for the 75 seniors.

“Longevity is something we want to celebrate,” said Danielle Brogley, director of programs with the Wood County Committee on Aging.

Two of the attendees were over the century mark. Elfreda Rusher, 100, was a business education professor at Bowling Green State University. Lucille Wood, 101, worked as a manager for United Savings.

Certificates were handed out by city and county officials to each of the seniors over age 90. Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn joked that his presence was required because of two women at one table who were sweet on the same man decades ago. One ended up as his wife.

“There may be a fight breaking out,” he said, smiling. “I’m here to keep the peace.”

Seniors chat before program.

As each senior was recognized, facts about their lives were read to the crowd. Several had marriages that lasted longer than many lives. Joe and Wilma Ablett have been married 68 years, Ralph and Ethel Mae Vogtsberger have been wed 71 years. And Victor and Eileen Herringshaw recently celebrated their 73rd anniversary.

Some had stories about being swept off their feet by love. Vera Roe, 93, ran off to Indiana with George to get married. They were forced by their families to get married a second time when they got back, so their families could attend. John Searle, 91, said he used to play drums and met his wife at a “lonely hearts club.” And Cloine Skelding, 96, met her husband after World War II, and dated just nine days before they got married.

Many of the seniors had interesting hobbies. Shirley Gable, 92, went whitewater rafting and mountain climbing at the age of 72. Alma Adler, 90, used to pitch for her softball team and loved bowling. Ray Chapman, 91, has his name on the Almar Lanes Bowling Wall of Fame. Norah Colapietro, 92, loves puzzles, dancing and fishing. Selma Colony, 94, has fond memories of pheasant hunting with her father and brothers. Lavonne Eckert, 90, still plays organ for several organizations.

Jean Eilert used to love going to Florida to watch the Detroit Tigers spring training with her husband and their dog named, Itty Bitty. Carl Gable remembered bowling a perfect game at the age of 73. Geraldine Gibson, 92, enjoys dancing and roller skating. Victor Herringshaw, 93, has retired from farming, but he still mows his own lawn.

Warren Wolfe, 93, collects stamps and plays piano. Margaret Savieo, 93, is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. Ronald Ricard, 93, enjoys beekeeping and fondly remembers going on mission work projects throughout the U.S. And Katherine Bell, 90 in a few weeks, smuggled Bibles into Burma to deliver them to people there.

Some of the women were boundary breakers. Jean Atha, 91, was the daughter of a fire chief who would only let her brother ride in the fire truck. So she just rode her bike and followed behind. Jo Libbe, 90, who was just three weeks old when her mother died, attended a one-room school where she completed grades first through third in just one year.

Jean Machnauer, 92, was a farmer and a strong woman, with the ability to lift 100 pounds of fertilizer. Selma Colony, 94, graduated from college at age 56. Jean Green, 97, used to do electrical work at an airbase. Alice Settlemire, 99, worked as a musician playing at restaurants and hospitals. And Margaret Neifer, 99, is a retired teacher whose sons tell her she is strong-willed, “but they use other words sometimes.”

Gathering was like a reunion for some.

World War II played a major role in many of the seniors’ lives. Roy Hayes, 93, was a WWII fighter pilot. Bill Libbe, 91, fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Vincent Wilczynski, 90, was on the first ship in the invasion of France on June 5, 1944. Ora Walker, 96, served as a nurse during the war.

Haysel Brown, 92, quit her secretarial job and went home to the farm to help her dad milk cows by hand after her brother joined the military. Norah Colapietro, 92, still remembers seeing her husband come home from war. Lucille Conrad, 94, whose husband was away at war, was caring for her two young sons with a daughter on the way, when their 2-year-old was diagnosed with polio and spent 18 months in the hospital.

Paulette Davies, 93, went to school in France. She and her sister were arrested by Germans during WWII, and then were liberated by the Americans after spending three weeks in jail. It was then she met her husband-to-be, Jack, who was serving in the intelligence department of the U.S. Air Force. Josephine Dresser, 91, grew up in England and is a WWII veteran of the British Army Women’s Branch.

Many of the seniors didn’t stay put. Carl Gable, 92, traveled in his RV throughout the U.S., all the way up to Alaska. James Hunt, 96, married a woman he met in Australia, and traveled to South Africa, East Africa, Lebanon, Turkey, Guam and Hawaii. George Seifert, 90, and his wife traveled around the world from east to west. Ralph and Ethel Mae Vogtsberger have gone to several foreign countries as well as every state in the U.S. twice over. Bob Lober, 95, saved a man from freezing to death while he was in Alaska.

Other seniors shared special memories, like Jean Gross, 93, who said she and her husband were instrumental in establishing the Luckey Library. George Hubbell, 93, served as mayor of Holland for six years. Alice Kijowski, 90, used to work for General Mills, with her favorite cereal being Lucky Charms. Dorothy Roe, 91, grew up as the fourth of 14 children. Jack Ulery, 96, is the oldest living member of Local 8 IBEW. And Mabel Sutphin, 91, who grew up around the coal mines of West Virginia, is very proud of the fact that she still has her own teeth.

Oddly enough, three of the senior listed connections with Queen Elizabeth of England. Wilma Ablett, 91, said she is exactly one day older than the queen. Marcena Bockbrader, 90, met the Queen of England while in Canada. And Josephine Dresser, 91, enlisted the same time and in the same British Army regiment as the queen in 1943.

The last two seniors to be recognized were Wayne and Lois Young, of Luckey. They have attended all six of the 90-plus Spectacular events. “It’s always wonderful to end with the name ‘Young,’” Brogley said.

Lois and Wayne Young, of Luckey