By Naomi Klouda
Sue Lewis is a marvel. At 100 years of age, she still gets up every morning and puts on her red lipstick. She finds a pair of earrings and puts them on. In her wheelchair she “walks” herself down to the cafeteria and gets herself a cup of coffee, and she pulls up to her table. At the table she is joined by her friends, Lois, who is 94 and Nadine, 95. They talk about anything from the day’s news to the goings on around the Homer Senior Center.
“Use or you lose it,” she has said many times. At first, it was in reference to walking, when I met her as a spry 93 year old a few years ago.
“You have to use your legs, or lose your ability to use them. You have to keep your mind active,” she said.
She was using a cane back then, and lived as far from the lunchroom as a person could in the Friendship Terrace complex – at the far end of the second floor. She liked it there because it meant she was going to get her walking in, one way or another. Every now and then, she would consent to letting me hold her arm or her hand.
Later, she took to the wheelchair. Now, she lives closer to the lunchroom. “No, don’t push me,” she said. “This is how I get my ‘walking’ in.” Using a banister that lines the hallway to her room, she scoots along.
Sue generally has interesting books in her living room. They might be mystery or romance or a nonfiction work because her interest is broad. “Books are good friends,” she says. Two of the night stands she and her husband built 40 or more years ago – replica’s of period pieces.
The daily newspaper is there, too. Nadine has a subscription and when she is finished reading it, she brings it down for Sue. A lifetime of thrift continued on.
On Monday, the day of her 100th birthday, she hadn’t wanted a big fuss. That didn’t stop others from wanting to make a big deal out of her: a bright big cake, balloons and fan fare. On Friday, she had told me she doesn’t think turning 100 is “anything special.” I had called to tell her I would be to visit on Saturday afternoon. “I’ll look forward to that,” she said, warmth in her voice.
I like to think about Sue. She was born March 19, 1912 near the little town of Clear Water, Wash. to farming parents who had immigrated. She spoke German until after World War I, when prejudice against that country rose. Her dad bought one of the first Model T Fords, but in her youth walking was the primary mode of transportation. They raised their own food. “I can’t remember getting food from the grocery store,” she said. In 1930, she graduated from Sedro Woolley High at the top of her class, and with her scholarship went to Washington State University in Pullman. She figured home economics to be a good bet for job security during the Great Depression.
“Every penny counted during the Depression,” she said. “I found out what was wanted, because even with a college education many couldn’t get jobs, unless there was a demand for it,” she said.
Teaching home economics would be in demand.
“Back then, you had to learn how to cook and sew,” she said. “If you wanted anything canned, you had to can it yourself. It was vital to sew and cook in order to live.”
Of the 12 Stroebel children, 11 graduated from college.
“That was due to my mother,” Sue said. “Her philosophy was that any material possession can be taken away from you, but what you had in your head couldn’t.”
Each of the older siblings, after graduating, helped the next in line attend. Sue was helped by an older sister, and in turn, helped younger sister Lizzie go to college.
Through the years, Sue married, had a son, taught school, worked for the Red Cross and then retired. Her health has been good to her, she said. “I am just lucky that way, I guess.”
Her attitude toward life is practical, but optimistic. Perhaps that is the secret to her longevity. Sue says she gets the blues every now and then, but she works her way out of it. “You have to control your thoughts. It’s work, but you have to,” she says.
Sue has been asked the secret to longevity so many times, she doesn’t know how to answer. Yet, I think if I could spell it out from observation, I would say her secret to a long life is her “self.” She’s amazing in her fiercely guarded independence, her sense of self discipline and her continued interest in the events and people around her. Sue takes each day as it comes, rain, snow or shine. She is loved and she loves back.
Happy, happy 100th birthday, Sue. It is a pleasure and an honor to know you.
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