The dining hall at the Red Lion Kalispell was a sea of gray and white Thursday afternoon for the 13th annual Centenarians Luncheon, honoring 111 Montanans age 100 and older.
The luncheon was the cornerstone of the 49th annual Governor’s Conference on Aging — a two-day presentation on elderly issues such as Alzheimer’s and family caregiving challenges.
Among the honorees were 11 Flathead Valley residents, with Edith Wylie as the oldest among them at a wizened 105.
Her secret to longevity?
“Good genes,” Wylie said, “and perhaps the bourbon and water, plus Cheetos while watching the 5-o-clock news.”
Wylie, who celebrated her 105th birthday July 28, said her biggest life lesson was the importance of kindness.
“I like to make friends with everybody,” she said.
The Bigfork resident spent 25 years teaching fourth grade in Havre and keeps up with the times by reading her daily newspaper and other items of interest on her Kindle.
Also representing the area was Polson’s Oscar Baertsch, who said he reached the age of 102 by a lot of hard work and “minding my own business.”
“I did a lot of things. The first job I really had, I was 15 years old over in Helena. I delivered telegrams for the postal telegraph and then I quit and went to high school,” Baertsch said.
His strong work ethic was present on his ranch where he raised both sheep and cattle — and inspired his children to also make careers in agriculture.
Baertsch isn’t the only one to reach an advanced age in his family — he’s part of a long line of folks who’ve lived to 90 years and beyond, his son, Gary said. Among his central achievements are a 67-year marriage, serving as the grand marshal of the 2015 Fourth of July parade in Polson and driving a Model A Ford over Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road in 1933 — while it was still under construction.
The oldest honoree in the state was Missoula’s Helen Self, who was one of two 108-year-old centenarians. Her secret to longevity is never giving up, staying busy and keeping a good attitude. No matter how poorly she’s feeling, Helen simply tells herself, “Helen, get out of the (expletive) bed!” — and so she does. During World War II, Self worked in the shipyards and later served as the president of the American Legion Auxiliary while she was in her 90s.
Self has led an active life, even as she entered her later years: she celebrated her 100th with a Harley Davidson motorcycle ride and enjoyed a float down the Clark Fork River at 106. Self has started to slow down in recent years and quietly rang in her 108th birthday Aug. 17.
Cooking is heralded among her talents and up to age 107, Self would regularly cook elaborate meals for her family. She currently lives with her granddaughter Diane Gunter, and helps provide a safe home for Gunter’s foster children.
“I really believe the fact she’s played a major role in helping me foster children is what has kept her going all these years,” Gunter said, in a press release. “She’s wanted to do all she could to help these children, and help give them a good home.”
Self was one of a select few at the top end of the age spectrum — the majority, or 36, of the 2017 centenarians had reached their 100th birthday, while 25 hit age 101 and 24 were 102. The remaining 34 were between the ages of 103 and 108.
Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney presented certificates to the nine local centenarians in attendance including: Kenneth Soward, 101, of Kalispell; Oscar Baertsch, 102, of Polson; Ruth Horn, 102, of Polson; Betty Brown-Peterson, 100, of Troy; Stella Rose Holyk, 100, of Hot Springs; Lily Ryan, 101, of Missoula; Helen Self, 108, of Missoula; Edith Wylie, 105, of Bigfork and Edna Ridenour, 101, of West Glacier.