Ethan B. Shelton

Leave a comment

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.

photo 2 (8)

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.


photo (21)

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

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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;



Sister Mary Irmina Blatt -103 years

Leave a comment

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.

Gladys Ritchie – 104 years old

Leave a comment

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

Doris Eaton Travis – 106. The last Ziegfeld Folly girl.


March 14, 1904 – May 11, 2010

Doris as a young play actress

In response to my letter, Ms. Eaton sent me a copy of her book accompanied with a note.  She was 105 at the time.

The note read:

Dear Heather,

I’ve enclosed a copy of my book which will provide you with many stories and pictures.

I attribute my long life to always having a goal and being able to adapt to changes.  I’ve also been supported throughout my life with the study of Christian Science.

Doris Eaton Travis

After reading The Days We Danced, it is clear what Ms. Travis means by adaptability to change.  Doris and her siblings began acting in local plays and quickly moved to larger venues.  She joined the Ziegfeld follies in 1918 at 14 years old (they were lead to believe she was 16) where her sister Mary was already a star.  Throughout her career she appeared in many plays and even sang “Singin’ in the Rain’.  She also had the opportunity to appear in a silent film.

As movies became more and more popular, vaudeville acts were slowly being replaced.  Many talented women had a difficult time transitioning to film once they aged out and vaudeville lost its popularity.

While Doris struggled to pay her bills and fewer and fewer jobs became available, she came upon the chance to teach at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio.  She eventually owned many of the studio franchises throughout Michigan.  This venture provided her with many years of joy and a steady paycheck’s worth of independence.  Unfortunately, this too eventually led to hardships as the company went bankrupt and Doris did her best to salvage what was left.

She knew Babe Ruth!

While it seems like Ms. Eaton had already lived two lifetimes, she had more change in store.  Doris and her husband moved to Norman, Oklahoma and owned a horse ranch.  For real.  This turned out to be pretty successful for them.  Living in a college town, home of the University of Oklahoma, she decided her 70’s would be an excellent time to pursue her college education.  And really, who wouldn’t think that?

Now don’t think she gave up dancing.  She taught friends to dance in Norman and they began having extravagant show parties.  And in 1997 at 93 years old, she and 4 other Ziegfeld Folly girls were invited to the reopening of the New Amsterdam Theater.  Doris Eaton Travis was the only one still able to dance.  Such appearances continued including benefits performances, such as the Easter Bonnet AIDS benefit (below).

Dancing on Broadway in 2001

When Doris mentions adaptability to changes in her letter she wasn’t kidding.  When you live as long as she had you don’t have a choice but to continually change.  The great thing is that she clearly was not afraid to remake herself over and over.

Let’s not forget her mention of the other ‘secret’ to her incredible long life. The Christian Scientice Church is a denomination founded by Mary Baker Eddy, following her major work Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures which is drawn from the Christian Bible.  Christian Scientists believe in prayer for healing over medical practices, but church members are free to choose in such circumstances.  They are well known for avoiding modern medical care.

Doris’ lifelong love of dancing could have attributed to her on-going mental capacity.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine,  dancing is the only physical activity that decreases the incidence of dementia.  Living a long life without the onset of dementia is what is makes Doris so spectacular.

Having only skimmed the surface of her extraordinary life, I would recommend reading The Days We Danced if you are interested in learning more about the Eaton family and Doris Eaton Travis herself.


Travis, Doris E.  The Days We Danced: The Story of My Theatrical Family from Florenz Ziegfeld to Arthur Murray and Beyond.  Marquand Books. Seattle. 2003
Verghese, J.,  R.B. Lipton, M.J. Katz, et al. Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly.  New England Journal of Medicine.  2003; 348; 25; 2508-2516
Full disclosure.  I am a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and people that obtain a degree there are a little bit better than everyone else.  (This has not been studied yet, unfortunately).