In May, we attended the birthday celebrations for three 90-year-olds. All live in Phillipston. All are healthy, independent, live in their own homes, still drive, enjoy full lives … and each one had special birthday experiences.
- Tony Wagner energetically danced the polka, the music of his Polish heritage.
- Betty Davidson was escorted to her party in a police cruiser.
- Gerry Gariepy reminisced with two longtime friends.
Do they attribute their long life spans to genetics, diet, good health care, vocations, religion, hobbies or their place of residence?
Genetics does not necessarily play a role. Tony’s parents died in their 60s and 70s. Betty’s parents lived long lives into their 80s, but she is the first one to live to be 90. Gerry’s parents died in their 60s and 70s, before good heart treatments were available.
Diet has not been a big factor with these folks, however; they eat well and none of them are overweight. Tony doesn’t follow a strict diet but, he said, “I am careful to keep my weight down. I do a lot of physical activity and eat nutritious meals.”
Betty said, “I didn’t live to be this old eating healthy. Don’t try to make me start now.”
Gerry said, “My wife tries to keep me on a heart-healthy diet, but I have snacks in my workshop that wouldn’t qualify.”
Health care qualifies as high importance. Early detection of problems is key to successful treatment. All three of these people have regular check-ups.
Tony goes to the Veterans Administration for health care and learned from blood tests that he needs to take some supplements. Both Betty and Gerry have been successfully treated for cancer and heart problems.
Vocation choices make a difference. Looking forward to the day’s work reduces stress and brings joy and satisfaction. Tony said, “I am the luckiest guy on earth.” He called his work at Electric Boat “engineering heaven.” Betty said, “I did real estate work at Tousignant Realtors Inc. for 37 years and loved it.” Gerry said, “I never had a bad day at Norton Company where I worked in diamond abrasives. I looked forward to going to work.”
Religion has been an important part of their lives and they try to live the good lessons of their faiths. “My faith is built on love and benevolence,” Tony said.
Betty said, “Going to church makes you feel good about the way you live. You know what’s right and what’s wrong. I listen to gospel music every night when I go to bed and it lulls me to sleep.”
Gerry said, “Church has been a big part of my life since high school. I try to follow the teachings of Jesus.”
Hobbies are fulfilling, stimulating to the brain, and keep a person from getting bored. All three spend a lot of time reading. Tony reads books on economics and business, builds stone walls, does gardening, and takes care of his wife who has difficulty with mobility. He said, “I’ve become a pretty good cook.” Betty reads religious books, enjoys gardening, and doing crossword puzzles. Gerry reads books on history and aviation, does handyman jobs around the house, and enjoys traveling.
Place of residence can give a person a feeling of peacefulness, and Phillipston has provided that for all three of them. Tony said, “It’s quiet here, a good place to live during this time of life. I’m thankful for my good neighbors.” Betty said, “I like it here. It’s a small town and my family is nearby. My family was involved in town politics. It was stressful so I didn’t get into it, but I always vote.” Gerry also likes living here. He said, “The people are friendly and welcoming, and the town has a quiet beauty.”
Good and Bad of Old Age: They all said that facing medical issues was a bad part of growing old, and Gerry added that it is hard to lose friends. (When we were young, we attended weddings, when we’re old we’re attending funerals.)
Tony said, “A good thing about growing old is that it feels like I’m on vacation 365 days a year. I have time to do things I couldn’t do, like taking courses at Monty Tech.” Betty said, “I like life. I enjoy having time to spend with my family and friends.” Gerry said, “I can spend more time with friends, I can spend the day doing what I want, have more time to read, and time to travel.”
Their words of wisdom: Tony said, “I like to mentor young people. I believe in passing goodness on. Keep a positive attitude. Be grateful. Spend a little bit of time by yourself every day for reflection.” Betty said, “Go to church and keep going.” Gerry said, “Live by the Boy Scout slogan — Do a good turn daily. If everyone followed the Scout Oath and Law, the world would have no problems.”
After interviewing these nonagenarians, it was evident that doing good deeds, keeping physically fit, doing things that stimulate the brain, having activities that give pleasure, and being at peace with yourself and the world contributes to a long fulfilling life.
Carole Gariepy is a Phillipston resident and author of “Dragging Gerry around the World” and “Why Go There?”