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100 and counting: Data shows county residents living longer

Eleanor Garvey and her great grandson Connor Peters, 3, of Cary look at her birthday cake Sunday at Bickford of St. Charles.
Eleanor Garvey and her great grandson Connor Peters, 3, of Cary look at her birthday cake Sunday at Bickford of St. Charles.

ST. CHARLES – Eleanor Garvey laughed as a well-wisher reminded her that she just turned 100.

“You don’t have to rub it in,” Garvey said during her birthday party Sunday at Bickford Senior Living center, where she is a resident.

Turning 100 is becoming more commonplace, as Kane County residents are living longer. According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 6,516 Kane County residents were 85 or older, up from 4,372 in 2000.

“I attribute her longevity to her sense of humor,” said Diane Peters of Cary, one of Garvey’s grandchildren.

Garvey also is in good health. She started using a wheelchair only two years ago, and lived by herself in Chicago until she was 95.

“I feel fine,” she said. “I have to keep moving around because I have ants in my pants.”

She has plenty of company in the 100-year-old club. There will be a birthday party at 2 p.m. today at St. Peter School in Geneva to celebrate the 100th birthday of Sister Johanna Murphy, a former St. Peter School principal. Murphy led the school from 1967 to 1975.

Murphy, a religious sister in the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary, will turn 100 on Thursday. She was a longtime resident in the Batavia convent until a few years ago, when she moved into a small convent in Hopkins Park to live and serve among the poor.

Nellie Blacksmith, a resident at Heritage Woods assisted living community in Batavia, passed the century mark years ago. She celebrated her 105th birthday in August 2012.

“She’s always around talking to people,” Heritage Woods marketing director Jennifer Hanke said. “She takes long walks around the building. We’re all very inspired by Nellie. It shows you that you can stay strong and stay yourself. She hasn’t lost herself in all those years.”

Blacksmith had advice for those who want to live a long life.

“Just be quiet and go with the flow,” she said. “And take a lot of naps.”

The Holmstad retirement community in Batavia has six residents more than 100 years old. Its oldest resident is 109 years old, said Josh Anderson, executive director of The Holmstad.

“We have three other residents who turn 100 this year,” Anderson said. “We could have nine 100-year-olds by the end of the year. Several of them are still pretty active, but obviously at a slower pace.”

Anderson attributed their longevity to the fact that people are taking better care of themselves and to advances in medical care.

“I think our health care system is helping them live longer,” he said.

At Delnor Glen Senior Living community in St. Charles, two residents will turn 100 this year.

“Socialization helps,” Delnor Glen employee Jane Butler said. “That’s a big thing.”

Loretto Cowhig, planner for the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging, which serves Kane County and other nearby counties, agreed.

“If you are isolated physically and socially, that’s a very stressful situation,” she said. “It’s not just how long you live, but how long you are healthy and happy.”

From 2006 to 2008, there were an estimated 1.8 million people age 90 and older in the United States, according to a report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau in November 2011. Ten states had 50,000 or more people age 90 and older, including Illinois.

Cowhig also attributed the fact that people are living longer to medical advances that have helped to discover health problems earlier. The U.S. population age 65 and older increased more than tenfold between 1900 and 2000, from 3.1 million in 1900 to 35 million in 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau officials.

“It’s only been since World War II that we’ve had widespread antibiotics,” she said. “We have all kinds of things that protect us that our grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have.”

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