Good News!

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As you may have noticed there was a major hiatus between the time I wrote and received letters and began posting them again.  It turns out that I was very distracted by being pregnant then taking care of a wee baby man.  Very distracted.  Life balance has returned somewhat and I am a little bit better at time management.  What that means is – I started writing to interesting centenarians again!  So I will be interchanging between sharing new letters and older letters.  There are lots of wisdom yet to come so get excited.


Ethan B. Shelton

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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.