Ethan B. Shelton


Born July 10, 1903

Ethan Shelton’s daughter, Martha Ann, responded to my letter with an envelope packed to the brim!  There were photos, several original newspaper articles, copies of older newspaper articles, family Christmas newsletters, and additional articles about other centenarians.  Her enthusiasm and love for her father is evident.  He was 106 years old at the time she wrote me.

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June 2009, Ethan soon to be 106 years old

The Letter

Dear Heather,

It seems everyday something else reminds us what an amazing man he is.  His can do spirit, devotion to family and friends, his church, his good attitude.

He’s thrifty, but loves to treat everyone when you go out to eat.

He lives alone with his cats, Blackie adopted him about thirteen years, Ace adopted him about seven months ago.  He still misses the companionship of marriage.

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with all the articles, I think they answer most of your questions.  Okra is his favorite veggie, then turnip greens and collards.

With warm regards, 

Martha Ann, Girl Friday in Dad’s words.

Taking a load off after gardening. (Love that suit!)

Okra, turnip greens, and collards

Gardening was a consistent part of Mr. Shelton’s life, something that he continued into his 100’s.  Even at a 100 he was still growing tomatoes, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, potatoes, turnips, beans, squash, okra, Alabama peas and collards.  Anyone who gardens in a suit is clearly a class act!


Ethan loved his green veggies!  The Chicago Health and Aging study reports that older adults who eat at least three vegetable servings a day maintain their mental abilities 40% longer than those who eat less than a serving a day, this is especially true when those vegetables are leafy greens like spinach, turnip, and mustard greens.  Leafy green vegetables are also known as cruciferous vegetables.  A Chinese study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that individuals with the highest intake of cruciferous vegeteables had a 22% lower mortality rate and a 31%  lower cardiovascular disease mortality.

Celebrating his 100th birthday in 2003. Martha Ann is on the lower left.


Oldest and youngest (at the time) in a ballroom dance studio when Ethan was in his 90’s.


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65th wedding anniversary picture from their local paper.

Ethan was married to Rose Zimmermann January 18th, 1926 and they had 5 children together.  At the time of their marriage (a year after they met) Rose was 18 and Ethan 23, Rose’s parents thought he was too old for her.  Ethan was quoted as saying, “I believe it takes commitment to make a marriage last.  And if having children doesn’t help, I don’t know what will.”  They were married 69 years at the time of her death.  In 1947 they purchased a 40 acre farm in Berrien Center, Illinois, which became a family business with two retail and wholesale operations, known as Shelton’s Farm Markets.  Ethan Shelton was also a barber and operated a barber’s shop until 1960, retiring from farming in 1969.  Rose Shelton worked in the local hospital as Personnel Director.

Martha Ann also included two articles about her father’s love of music and dance.  The Sheltons were great lovers of music, having 20 instruments in their home.  Rose was known to primarily play the ukulele and harmonica and Ethan played the guitar.  The harmonica also occupied a special place in his heart, having bought one himself at 8 years old from Sears Roebuck for 11 cents.  Mr. Shelton began taking dance lessons in 1995 after the death of his beloved wife Rose.  He was noted to enjoy swing dance, cha-cha, and the tango.

More Science

The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of the Bronx Aging Study which concluded that playing musical instruments and dancing are associated with a lower risk of dementia.  With dancing being the only physical activity to be associated with the lower risk.  So take a page from Ethan Shelton’s book, its never too late to learn to dance!

Alice Wynne – Lived to 108 years old

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July 1904 – April 2, 2013

Alice Wynn was 105 years old at the time that I wrote to her.  I received a letter from the proprietor of the care home she resided in.  Alice shared photos with her and copies were sent to me.

Alice receives a card from the Queen on her birthday.

According to the Official Website of the British Monarchy the Queen sends cards on the occasion of residents 100th birthday, 105th birthday, and every birthday there after.  This is a fun tradition and my personal favorite part is the Queen’s face on the card.  Am I alone in thinking the Queen should smile more on her card picture?

Alice celebrating her 103rd birthday with staff and residents of Lands House care home. Back left: Her two buddies Mable and Ruby who were both in their 90’s, those spring chickens.

The Letter

Dear Heather,

My name is Georgina I am the proprietor of Lands house and I like to think friend of Alice and feel privileged to know her, for she is a remarkable lady.

Alice said that she would like me to answer your letter on her behalf.

Alice lived in Halifax West Yorkshire most of her life; she worked in the market there.  She is a Roman Catholic and has always attended church and is still faithful to her religion and is given communion in the home regularly.  She lost her husband and her only son many years ago, her son died in his forties and as she says she has been on her own a long time but she does have her nephew Terrance and his wife Doreen who visits every week.  

When I asked her what she thinks contributes to her living to such a great age, she said that it is unbelievable to her that she is so old and that all she can think is that you have to keep an active mind and that it must be Gods will and we have to except what he gives us.  

“keep an active mind”

Alice has all her wits about her and is more like someone in there eighties, she can have long conversations and loves talking to people.  Her sight is now limited and due to a fall some six years ago she no longer walks, but can stand and do a few steps.  She copes very well in a nursing home but she gets bored, as not every elderly can chat as she can.  She likes to be active and will go at any thing.  She has strong opinions on food and enjoys old fashioned dishes (if they are cooked properly) on her birthday she enjoyed a Sunday lunch at the local pub and ate three courses and drank a pint of shandy (beer and lemonade).  What she likes most of all is to go outside in the sunshine, although we don’t see much of that in the U.K.

Yours sincerely Georgina Heather Copley on behalf of Alice Wynne


Her son Tony’s wedding. Her suit was lace and her hat made of feathers.

Georgina wrote descriptions on the backs of each of the copied pictures.  She mentioned that when talking with Alice and collecting these pictures that it was the first time she learned that Alice had lived in Blackpool as a young woman.  It sounded as though this was quite a fun little project for both of them.

Alice Wynn in her 20’s. Taken at Blackpool.

Alice Wynne lived to 108 years old.  According to the Huddersville Daily Examiner, she was invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in May 2012, while she was 107 years old.  She was still alert and gushed about meeting Royalty.  She was surprised to find the Queen in attendance and shared that Kate knelt down and touched her hand in greeting.  Prince Charles and Prince Philip also shared kind words with her.

Margaret Barker – 103

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Born May 26th, 1905

Margaret Barker wrote me from her ‘care home’ as the British call them in North Yorkshire, UK.  She sent a typed letter with a handwritten signature.  She was 103 at the time that she responded to my letter.

Below is a picture of Margaret and her son on her 100th birthday.  And below with her daughter in law at age 99.  Isn’t she lovely?

100 years

99 years

The Letter

Dear Heather,

Thank you for your letter and interest in your busy life.  I will try and tell you as well as I can about mine.  I was born in a small village called Armley near Leeds in West Yorkshire and went to school there, Chris Church School it was called, until I was 13 years old.  During that time we had the terrible Great War 1914-1918 where my dear father was killed.  He was posthumously awarded the Mons Star for his part in the battle at Thiepval in Northern France.  I mourn and remember him all these years after and have been twice to see his grave near Le Treport in Northern France.

I left school at 13 and worked in a Woollen and Worsted Mill in Leeds for 48 hours a week until I was 18 and then trained as a manicurist and hairdresser working at Bristis Bembergs silk mill in Doncaster in South Yorkshire, manicuring girls fingernails and hands until the Second World War broke out.  So much happened during that time as we lived near an RAF [Royal Air Force] aerodrome and caught some of the bomb attacks and by this time I was married and had my little boy.  We all had to pitch in and help civilians included  and my husband was in the Royal Navy patrolling the North Atlantic.  We protected ourselves by digging air raid shelters in the back gardens.  I remember how frightened my little boy was when we had the air raids.  My work during the war was with the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), pretty hectic for a woman, but we turned our hands to anything and I was the dristibuter of petrol for our section, liquid gold we called it.

My husband stayed in the Navy and I did my first love, sewing and dressmaking, while my son, Gerald grew up and entered the Royal Navy after the war ended eventually becoming a Chief Petty Officer, married a lovely girl, and went to serve in Cornwall and Malta.  I lived in Doncaster until 2001 when I came to Normanby House where I am very happy and somewhat amazed that anyone could be interested in me to write this letter.  I hope it is of interest to you and I too loved knitting and reading, history mostly.  I also dressed dolls in different costumes, that was my favourite pastime.

Sincerely Yours,

Margaret Barker

40 years

What seems to be an ordinary life becomes extraordinary as she lived long enough to share her individual role in history.  Its one thing to learn about World War II in text books but hearing the first hand account of someone who lived it is quite remarkable.  At 103 years old she has quite the clear memory of what it was to be a daughter, wife, mother, and member of society.

There may be no ‘secret’ here but I feel enriched just getting the opportunity to hear about her life!

What do you think it the most fascinating part of Margaret Barker’s letter?


Magdalena ‘Lee’ Skiff – 108 years

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May 12, 1902 – November 15th, 2010

Magdalena Skiff’s daughter, Doreen Moreno, replied to my letter.  They lived together in California.  At the time that she wrote me, Mrs. Skiff was 107 years old although she lived to 108.  No photo was included.

The Letter

Dear Heather,

I’m Doreen Moreno, daughter of Lee Skiff.  I’m sorry its taken so long to respond to your letter, I’ve been very busy.  I was wondering how you came across my Mothers age and address.  

My Mother has lives with me for the past eighteen years.  She is in very good health and it is remarkable how alert she is.  She walks with a walker now, but still gets around very good.  

She lived in San Francisco for sixty-seven years.  She had a lot of hills to climb.  Her home had a lot of steps and go up and down every day.  She has never over eaten and never eats fast food or fried foods.  She was raised on a farm in North Dakota so growing their own vegetables and fruits was a big part of their diet.  I also eat the same way, so cooking everything from scratch and growing our own fruits and vegetables is a normal way for us to eat.  My Mother has always enjoyed a little shot of whiskey straight before dinner.  I hope this will help you.


Doreen Moreno

Doreen was the first of many to inquire how I had obtained their name address.  Just for clarity, I always write back and briefly explain how the internet helped me find them.  Keeping the stalker vibe to a minimum has been very important to me.


Ms. Skiff’s life of regular physical activity and a healthy ‘back to basics’ diet are the ideal mix that are often missing from our modern lives.  While arguably many people born at the time likely walked more and ate more homegrown foods, did they maintain this lifestyle as they aged and technology and convenience foods popped up more and more.

Her daily shot of whiskey before dinner leads me to imagine her to have a bit of spunk.  And I just think that spunk counts for something!

A little bit o’ Science

According to the the Chicago Health and Aging Project of 2009, older adults who consume a minimum of three servings a day of vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, maintain their mental abilities 40% longer than those who ate less vegetables.

To read a little more about the benefit of alcohol consumption in moderation and aging, check out the post on Fred Cain.


photo credit: <a href=””>Chiot’s Run</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;



Fred Cain – 102 years

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Born June 5th 1907

Fred Cain was 102 at the time I wrote him.  He is blind and his response was typed by a staff member of the care home in which he resides.  The letter was received all the way from Chippenham, Wiltshire, England!

Sweet British Postage


The Letter

Tuesday 29th June 2009

Dear Heather,

Thank you for your card & enquiry about my secret to long life.

I was born in Plymouth where my father was a Navy man for the first ten years of my life.  He retired as a Chief Petty Officer.  We then moved to Cornwall and after leaving school I learned a trade as a Pattern Maker.

I joined RAF [Royal Air Force] in 1936 and was with them for 6 years.  In 1939 war broke out.  I was a mechanic on the airplanes and retired as a corporal.  I just missed out on being made sergeant by one day!  While I was in the RAF [Royal Air Force] I joined The Order of Buffalos which is a secret society just like the Masons.  I was 21 years old when I joined and I am still with them now at the grand age of 102!  I go to meetings every Sunday evening as long as the weather is good.

The secret to long life is honest living.  I still do my KP exercises every morning stretching and touching my toes and every evening I have a glass of whiskey.  I still play the piano even though I am now blind and enjoy listening to football matches on the radio with a friend in the home where I am living.


Fred Cain

As an unexpected extra, I received a letter from Fred Cain’s daughter Jan Withers a couple of months later.  She was able to provide me with some additional interesting information about her father.  Remarkably, Mr. Cain can still touch his toes – without bending his knees.  He was married for 68 years and had 3 children.  His wife died in December 2000, at the age of 90.  She mentioned his membership in The Order of the Buffaloes but specifies they are not like the Masons.  In November 2008 they held a ceremony for him to celebrate 80 years of service and recognized him as the oldest member in the world.  She included the picture below.  Also, in addition to playing the piano, as he mentioned, he had played the saxophone as well.  He played in a dance band for 25 years and she points out that he never received any music lessons but was completely self-taught by listening.

Fun Fact:  Printer paper from the UK is not the same size as the US.  Its longer.  If you already know this, you must be fancy.

I love how Mr. Cain breaks his longevity down to ‘honest living’.  Despite the aging process which has left him hard of hearing and blind he still continues to get up each day and do his stretches, he keeps his music love alive, listens to football (soccer) – with a friend, and that glass of whiskey!

Some Science

According to a study in a January 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, healthy seniors who were light to moderate drinkers had a 25% increase in their ability to complete daily activities.  This same study did note that seniors who were heavy drinkers did have an increase incidence of disability.  Researchers even defined light to moderate drinking as less than 15 drinks a week with a daily max of 5 drinks a day for men and 4 drinks a day for women.  These results did however only seem to benefit those who were without other significant health concerns (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, depression).

Lucille ‘Lucy’ Sicari – 103 years old

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March 1907 – November 2, 2010

Lucille and I exchanged several letters and share a love of knitting.  In November I began to write this post about her and discovered she had recently passed away, admittedly I got too bummed out and couldn’t bring myself to to even start.  I really was disappointed that I would not be able to write her again.

I first wrote to Lucy in May 2009, the next month I received her response in a pretty card.

June/4 2009

Dear Heather,

Sorry I did not write sooner my arm was hurt and had to get xrayed over twice.  So today I made up my mind to try to make my writing legable.  I lived on S.I. [Staten Island] all my life, on of 18 children, you can understand – not much education quit grammar school to help work suport family.  I’m 2nd born child, so home from school & clean house with mom.

No playing outdoors- 3 girl sisters & rest brothers all college grads and did well.  Knitting all boys sweaters.  No drinking no smoking – father died heart attack 37 years old – very happy life – married 22 yrs old.  Left high school in first grade Curtis High.  Also did painting cloth table cloths very beautiful also in final work I made wedding gowns in factory.

Sorry I can’t write more.

Hope sometime later.


Lucy Sicari

Good Luck to you

PS My husband was a city worker died when my boys were 9 & 14 yrs old – very much loved – He was 42 yrs old

PSS I am still knitting

So she didn’t quite answer the question at all but her letter was still fun to read.  I Lucy may have not put much thought in there actually being a secret to her long life.  She just lives life and knits.  Pretty sweet.

In March 2010, I sent her a birthday card to celebrate her 103rd year.  I received another response on a pretty card with a pink flower and butterfly, so granny chic.

Sat. Mar 6, 2010

Dear Heather,

Thank you for remembering my birthday.  It makes me smile to think I’m so very old.  My writing is poor.

Thanks again,

Lucille Sicari

I am still knitting!

Note:  Her handwriting here isn’t poor at all.  Its very legible cursive.  Well, she may not have answered my question but I feel confident her love of knitting had something to do with it.

Sister Mary Irmina Blatt -103 years

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May 7, 1907 – September 5, 2010

A volunteer from the Benedictine Monastery in Clyde Missouri, Mary Sheridan, replied to my letter.  Sister Irmina’s memory was not great and Ms. Sheridan had recently completed an oral history with her which she shared with me.Sister Mary Irmina was born Cecilia Mary Blatt in Granville, Iowa to Nicholas and Anna Blatt.  One of 11 children, she had 7 older sisters and 3 brothers, they lived on a farm with cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and sometimes ducks.  She considered herself an obedient child.  She was raised as ‘a good Catholic’ and attended Catholic schools, joining the Benedictine Sisters as a novice at 16 years old.

A member of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, clearly faith has been a daily part of her life.  She says, “I am a person that just takes things as they come, hard times or good times.  I just try to do the best I can.  Try to obey the Rule, that’s the one thing.”  When asked how old she felt she replied, “I don’t feel [any age] at all, I’m just happy I’m living.  Take things the way God has them for me, that’s the way I live.”  She also notes that she says her rosary every day.

I could not find definitive numbers on the average age of living Catholic sisters but the consensus appears to be in the 70’s.  The amount of Catholic nuns has been declining and the average age increasing as fewer women join.  Being that sisterhood is a spiritual endeavor, there is minimal scientific evidence about the effects on their life of celibacy, devotion, and good works on their health and longevity.  Despite that, we can draw our own theories.

Elizabeth Kuehnoel – 105 years

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May 17th, 1905 – August 10, 2010

Elizabeth sent me an especially poignant letter.  I feel that the letter is so ‘stand on its own’ beautiful that further commentary/ speculation is not necessary.

June 19 – ’09

Dear Heather,

Yes, I am 104 – Today I sold my car – it broke my heart.  It was a 1990 Honda Accord.  I turned in my license to drive.  My family will be happier.  The car was spotless –

The strongest character trait I possess is a fine sense of humor.  It makes life livable.  Also, once I set a goal for myself – I don’t ever look back.  I had a hard life but it never occurred to me to quit!  I never had a mother – she, bless her heart died from childbirth.  Nobody really wanted me – the paternal grandparents took me.  My grandmother loved male children and detested little girls.  I tried so hard to excel – to get a word of approval – school was a refuge – so I was a super student still in quest for acclaim.  She never picked me up.  She never allowed me to cry so, to this day – I don’t cry.  I can’t.  College was a nightmare – but it never occurred to me to quit.

The point I am trying to make is a soft life does not ensure a long life.

I worked hard all my life.  I had a bachelor’s degree.  I had been a secondary teacher until by age I had to quit.  My grade point as a H.S. Grad was 94.4.

Adversary is not a deterrent, unless you want to whine.

I always believed I was here for a purpose.   I taught all ages, many subjects, always devoted classes.

At 104 I teach college level classes on alternate Weds.  I teach without notes.  I credit a superb liberal arts education which I received at Juniata College – Incidentally I have seven years of Latin to bolster up my vocabulary.  I have this peculiar ability to attract super people – I draw them to me like a magnet.  My guardian angel guides me.  I think a lot – usually I come to a reliable conclusion.  I have taught on all levels – I supplied for a couple of months in an all Spanish third grade – It was a joy –

Does this give you an idea of what makes me tick?

Gladys Ritchie – 104 years old

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born February 11, 1906

This is my first response from the United Kingdom!  I will admit that I was cautious about writing to centenarians in the UK because I was unsure if they would write back and it would ultimately be a waste of postage.  So I was absolutely thrilled to get this response.

Gladys Ritchie resides in a care home in Lydiate, Liverpool.

Ms. Ritchie was 103 when she sent me a brief handwritten letter.






And yes, she did write in all caps.  Her handwriting was little difficult to decipher but legible enough.  I love foreign postage stamps.  Isn’t this one lovely?According to the Formby Times Gladys was quite the shooting enthusiast in her day, winning many trophies and belonging to the Altcar Rifle Club. She lived independently until October 2008 when she moved into a care home.  She enjoys reading, crossword puzzles, and clearly writing to strangers in America.

The world through Gladys Ritchie’s Life:

Birth year of 1906

-King Edward VII the monarch of the United Kingdom.

– The light bulb is introduced.

Age 22 – The right to vote granted to all women over the age of 21 in England.

Age 24 – First BBC television broadcast.

Age 34 – The automatic dishwasher is manufactured.

Age 58 – The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time 2 days before her 58th birthday.

Age 70 – Betamax the first home video cassette recorder introduced.

Age 80 – The world’s first test tube twins born in London.

Age 91 – The unexpected and much publicized death of Princess Diana

Thelma White – 105 years


April 12, 1905

I received a response from Thelma White’s daughter Elizabeth A. Garrett.  She sent a typed letter and the photo (above) taken on April 12th, 2009, her 104th birthday.

Her letter reads:

Thelma Marie Faulkner White

Thelma was born on April 12, 1905 in Leeds, Ala.  She was the second youngest of 12 siblings.  Her father was a land owner and her mother was a homemaker and midwife.

She married Herman H. White in 1924 and they moved to Tampa, Florida in 1928 where they raised two daughters.  Elizabeth A. Garrett and Dorothy R. Hardy, and has six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.  Her husband died in 1963 and she never remarried.

Thelma was a homemaker, seamstress and assistant to an interior decorator. She was a fan of detective stores in print and on television.

She lived by herself until she broke her hip when she was 96 then she came and lived with her daughter Elizabeth in Clearwater, Florida.  She now has trouble seeing and has a small heart condition and is living in a rehabilitation center.

Thelma never drank or smoked and always preferred vegetables over meat and attributes her longevity to a love of sweet potatoes.

She always has a story to tell and her memory is amazing.

Hope this will help and good luck in your writing.

Her daughter Betty.

Thanks Betty!  Thelma is among many centenarians to come who have never drank or smoked, two known contributors to aging.  Her preference of vegetables over meat appears to have served her well.  According to the Chicago Health and Aging Project, older adults (65+) who consume at least 3 servings of vegetables daily maintain their mental abilities 40% longer than those who eat less servings.

Foods rich in antioxidants are believed to help decrease the effects of aging.  Oxidation can cause cell damage and may attribute to aging.  One antioxidant beta carotene, is found in Mrs. White’s favorite food: sweet potatoes.  It can also be found in other orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots and pumpkin.  Diets rich in beta carotene have been correlated with a reduced risk of certain kinds of cancer, especially lung, female reproductive , gastrointestional, and oral cancers.  Also in clinical trials it has actually been shown to reverse precancerous lesions.  Some evidence suggests it may decrease the risk of cataract formation.  What can’t beta carotene do?

Thelma sounds like a lovely woman and I hope her many years to come.  Also, I hope someone is fixing her favorite sweet potato dish right now.

Veggies Boost Brain Power. American Dietetic Association. July 13, 2009.
A. Catherine Ross, PhD, Maureen E Ternus MS, RD. Vitamin A as a hormone: Recent advances in understanding the actions of retinol, retinoic acid, and beta carotene.