Want to live long? Stay here

Published 2:13 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

I’ve been in Austin almost four months now and an interesting thing occurred to me recently.

In general, Mower County residents live a long time.

In a span of two weeks this month, according to Herald obituaries, 15 people lived to be older than the life expectancy average in the United States, which according to a Washington Post article reached 78.1 in 2006.

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Arthur Dubke, Paul Ebert and Norma Swanson were all 80; Charles Schwartz was 82; Valaria Wagner was 85; Vernon Nelson, Kenneth Nelson and Leonard Egen were all 88; Charles Stephenson and Jay Victor Simonson were both 89; Clara Noble was 90; Frances Kolb and Luella Mittag were both 93; while Gladys Johnson and Ellen Friedrich were both 96.

If you’re thinking about leaving the area, you may want to think again.

Whatever it is about Austin and its surrounding communities, it seems to be working.

As a result of my discovery, I thought I’d head over to the Mower County Senior Center, see what they’re up to and see if I can learn some of the secrets to living a long and fruitful life.

As I walk in the door, I’m greeted with smiles from longtime friends Dick Beckel, 85, and Dorothy Weis, 86.

The two are listening to the radio, enjoying the sounds of Burl Ives sing about the funny way of laughing and others belting out tunes about broken hearts and a home, home on the range.

“They have good music,” Beckel says, who served in World War II in the Navy. He was proud to serve, but glad to get out as well.

An Austin native, Beckel says the key to life is family. “And I like to go to church,” he says.

He also credits living in Minnesota and the changing of the seasons.

“Before I got so old, I loved to hunt and fish, and I loved to golf,” he says.

Beckel grew up in a family of eight and raised six kids of his own. As a Catholic, he still eats fish on Fridays during Lent and is a sucker for lutefisk.

After working for Hormel Foods for nearly 37 years, he retired in 1985.

Beckel attended school at Webster Elementary in Austin, which is an apartment complex now.

He was in Mrs. McErney’s third-grade class, as was Weis.

“I come here, and I take Tai chi class,” Weis says about the secret to life, along with determination and friendship.

Weis raised seven kids, worked at Hormel for two and a half years and was a coat check for the Terp Ballroom for 20 years, which is a church today.

“See, I made it holy,” she says. “And I listened to a lot of gossip, too.”

In the dining room of the senior center, several intense games of cribbage are going on.

I think I’ll quietly walk over and see if anyone is interested in talking between hands.

“I think it’s being active,” says Lorraine Low, 88, about her key to living nearly nine decades.

“Because they have more pills to keep us going,” adds Eunice Perau, 85.

By the way Ms. Perau, is that a good hand you have?

“Yeah, pretty good,” she says.

Over at another table, Caroline Lewis, 92, gives her thoughts.

“We play cards, and we have a good life,” she says. “We enjoy what we’re doing. We’re not sitting at home in our rocking chairs.”

Loretta Prantner, 93, says it the way she means it.

“I’d say keep things simple,” she says.

I think I will.