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How to Age to 100: Family, Friends, Faith, Forests, and Football

For this post, I have a guest contributor, my husband’s stepmother Georgiann Gibson. Georgiann is a positive ager herself, retired and traveling the world with my father-in-law Pat. She has written a wonderful post in honor of Pat’s mother, Helen Gibson, who will turn 100 this week. Helen is an amazing woman who has a singular outlook and approach to life. Georgiann encapsulates it so well in her 5 F’s (Family, Friends, Faith, Forests and Football). Enjoy!

My mother-in-law will celebrate her 100th birthday this week. Among her many blessings is a loving family, some of whom live close-by and see her regularly, good health and a strong mind (albeit somewhat challenged in the short-term memory department lately).  When I think of Helen and how she has aged so well, a few of the words that come to mind are family, friends, faith, forests and football. Family, friends, and faith?  Pretty straightforward. Forests and football?  I’ll get to that.

Born at home near a small Nebraska town to an Irish-Catholic family (the O’Rourkes), Helen grew up on a farm with three sisters and two brothers. She rode to school on a horse and was educated in a one-room schoolhouse.  Whip smart, at a time when only about 30% of Americans graduated from high school, she graduated early, at the age of 16. Her graduation class had 30 students.

Helen as young woman

Helen as young woman

After graduating, she moved into town where she worked at a jewelry store for a salary and tended the owner’s family for room and board. Money was usually not in great supply during much of her life; she learned to use it wisely and save for things that meant the most – like a move west to marry her husband “Hoot”. That decision to move to Idaho showed Helen’s willingness to take well-reasoned risks and her sense of adventure. It was a good decision that led to a wonderful life.  (An interesting aside: One of her brothers married Hoot’s sister and several of the offspring in each marriage look enough alike that they could pass for twins.) Her family members were friends, and her friends were held dear and treated like family.

Life was not perfect for Helen and Hoot. Like all families, they had their share of ups and downs – tight financial times, family members dealing with and eventually overcoming alcoholism, and a young daughter with polio, to name a few. They differed politically too; Hoot (a staunch Republican) used to jokingly ask Helen (a life-long Democrat) why they even bothered to vote because they each only “canceled each other out”. But most issues were overcome with prayer, respect and support for one another and hard work. Disappointments and failures were taken in stride.

Helen now has 14 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. Until very recently, Helen was the central hub for information related to what was going on in the family as while some of her kids and grandkids live close-by, many are now scattered across the country, and even world.  She liked to know the latest news everyone had to share and always kept track of where her ‘kids’ were.

The extended Gibson clan at the last family reunion

The extended Gibson clan at the last family reunion (Helen is fourth from left in first row)

Helen has led an active life. Raising five kids and running a farm while your husband works tends to keep one active in its own right. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also worked a part-time job for a while to help save enough money for Hoot to buy a business. Like many moms, she took her turn leading cub-scout troops, coaching baseball and guiding 4H projects. She also headed the Ladies Auxiliary for the Meridian Race Track and coordinated efforts for the local Heart Fund. After her husband died, she began her many years as a volunteer working at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store. She developed quite a reputation for restoring donated rusty cast iron pans to like-new condition, and was loved and admired by all who worked with her. She was on a bowling team until the age of 89 (when she quit because she felt that her score was no longer “up to snuff”) and, until two years ago, was still driving herself to church, doctor appointments and the grocery store. She was able to continue driving because she demonstrated good judgment and limited her driving to daylight hours, short distances and safe road conditions.

Always a devout Catholic, her faith and devotion to her church grew even stronger over the years. She was a long-standing member of the Altar Society and rose through the ranks to their presidency. She volunteered for her church’s Perpetual Adoration service ministry and for many years she attended mass twice a week. Her faith is linked to a uniquely strong sense of positivity. She is the most positive person I know.  She is content with her life, she never complains, and she is always grateful for her many blessings.

Helen owns a very rustic cabin located in the Sawtooth National Forest, hence, the “Forest” reference. The cabin is small, simple, and like her, is treasured by the family. Whether hiking, fishing, tossing horseshoes, relaxing on the deck with a good book or engaging in a “friendly” (read cut-throat competitive) card game, there is something for everyone to savor. The cabin is nestled in a small dale among giant Ponderosa pine trees, sage and wildflowers. Deer frequent the salt-lick and hummingbirds flutter around her geraniums. Only an occasional bear is sighted in this, their natural home, which we share. The cascading water in a nearby creek provides a soothing auditory backdrop, and, as always, being in nature heals the mind and nourishes the soul. It is a little piece of paradise and one more thing that binds the family generations together.

Now, how does “Football” fit into the description of a 100 year-old woman? For many years she, along with most of the Gibson clan, has loved watching football–it is almost a second religion to them.  And of course, given her religious affiliation, she has always had an affinity for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish. Watching college football is one activity that binds her family together through the generations. Everyone claiming their own favorite teams has created both friendly rivalry and camaraderie. Now she keeps up with most games on TV, but until just a few years ago, each fall she attended a Notre Dame football game with her daughter’s family. Braving cold and snow, she rooted in person for “God’s Team.”

Living to be 100 years old is quite an accomplishment. To reach 100 with most of your mental faculties in tact and relatively good health is like gold dust. Is it luck? It’s hard to deny that luck doesn’t play some part. Is it good genes? Surely, inheriting good genes is key. But there is more.

Helen has lived an admirable life of hard work, strong values, love, and commitment to faith and family. With her positive outlook, she has continued to serve others until later in life, maintaining interests and participating in physical and mental activity. In five words: family, friends, faith, forests and yes, football. Happy 100th Birthday Helen!

Helen now

Helen now

kales@umich.eduHow to Age to 100: Family, Friends, Faith, Forests, and Football

1 comment

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  • Nanya Litz - December 13, 2016 reply

    I am sooo appreciative that you wrote & shared this wonderful life story with all of us! I too love to see and share in the many life stories of those that are wonderful and inspiring 100 years ‘young’!!

    Blessings to Ms. Beautiful Helen!
    Nanya Litz,RN/LNHCA

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