History is the stuff of memory for a trio of 102-year-olds

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The year 1913 saw the birth of parcel post, personal income tax and zippers — and Beatrice Risinger, Alice Smart and Claribel Conway.

The three residents of a senior living campus in Colorado Springs were toddlers when the U.S. entered World War I; 6-year-olds when women were granted the constitutional right to vote; and teens and young women, embarking on new life chapters, during the Great Depression.

“It is so incredible when you think about what they’ve experienced, from the horse and buggy to now. Seems like everyone I’ve worked with who gets to be this age, they just embrace change. They have to,” said Connie Johnson, general manager at The Bridge assisted living community.

Nationwide, the number of people living to age 100 has grown by more than 65 percent since 1980, thanks to 20th century advances in medicine and disease treatment, public health and nutrition.

“We’re in the business of working with older folks, and we’re so lucky to be able to do it,” said Kristi Graham, director of business development at Life Care Center, the campus’s skilled nursing facility. “To have three who are 102, at different levels of care on the same campus, is amazing to me.”

It also leads to some complicated questions about the future of care for America’s aging seniors, a group whose growth far outpaces that of any other segment of the population.

“These women retired and were able to move into a setting where they still could thrive because they still have so much activity and socialization — and they had the finances to do it,” Graham said. “It’s not cheap to stay at one of these places. If everybody starts living to 102, what’s it going to do to the system?”

Today, the only way to prepare for a long life, lived into one’s 90s and beyond, is to plan to live that long, physically and financially, Graham said. For Risinger, Smart and Conway — Scorpios who celebrate birthdays within a few weeks of one another in late October and November — the years have been good, and a gift they didn’t necessarily anticipate.

“People make such a big deal about birthdays,” Risinger said. “I don’t try to remember everything, good grief. Hard work, that’s what I remember.”

Beatrice “Bea” Risinger was born Oct. 24, 1913, in Macomb, Missouri.

After marrying, Risinger moved to eastern Colorado with her husband, Delbert, to farm and ranch, and also took a job as head cook at the local high school. With all the responsibilities required on the farm, and raising two children, there wasn’t much time to reflect on a job well done.

“That was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. It was a big family and a good family, a hard-working family,” she said. “It hurt to leave the farm. I loved it out there and I still love it out there.”

After she and Delbert sold the farm and moved to Colorado Springs, Risinger worked for many years as the head cook at The Colorado Springs School, preparing meals for a bevy of youngsters she loved like her own. A caretaker by nature who considered it her mission to make sure all children were fed properly, Risinger believes a strong work ethic — something perhaps lacking among the youth in today’s world — is what got her where she is.

“None of these kids knows what work is. They’re sissies,” said Risinger, a resident of the campus’s skilled nursing facility. “Don’t be afraid to work. That’s the main thing.”

Attitude helps.

“Come back, I might be here, I might not. I don’t wait for no one,” Risinger said jokingly.

Alice Smart was born Oct. 31, 1913, in Springfield.

Smart attended Lowell Elementary School in Colorado Springs and, after graduating from Colorado Springs High School, took some math courses and moved to Washington D.C., for a job with the State Department. All told, she spent about 32 years in the nation’s capital, working for different government agencies during times of war and peace. When she returned to the Springs, she devoted her life to volunteering, working to distribute food through a meal program and as a member of the Colorado Springs Women’s Club. She never married or had children, but has two nieces and many great nieces and nephews. Smart attributes her longevity to hard work, eating apples and walking.

“I’m the one in the family that walked,” said Smart, a resident of the campus’s assisted living community. “My brothers and sisters got in a car and went, but I’m the one that walked.”

Now, she’s the one that skips down the halls and dances whenever she can, Johnson said. If Smart could change one thing about her life, she said, “I would dance more.”

After retiring, Smart traveled the world on organized tours with senior groups.

“I got a reputation of having been everyplace because I went on these trips after I was retired,” she said.

Her favorite spot in the world?

“Home.”

Claribel Conway was born Nov. 16, 1913, in Canton, Illinois.

When she was 10, Conway moved to Colorado with her family. After high school, she studied English for two years at University of Denver before marrying her husband, Mel, who managed the prestigious Denver Athletic Club for many years. The couple had three daughters and one son, and moved to the Springs in the 1970s to care for an aging parent. After Mel died, Conway moved into the campus’s independent living facility, the Inn at Garden Plaza, where she has lived for almost 15 years.

A world traveler and “ace bridge player who loves to go shopping and can put together an outfit like nobody,” according to her friend, Pat Michels, Conway took up computers when she was 92.

“The guy at Best Buy about passed out. She picked it up really quickly though,” Michels said.

When it comes to Scrabble, competitors beware.

“She has all these words we don’t use anymore that end up being these triple-triple words,” Michels said.

Conway is ever humble.

“I don’t think I’ve been that successful, you know. I had no career or anything like that. Just a housewife. Grandchildren — quite a few, don’t know how many,” she said. “And she lets me win at Scrabble.”

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Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com

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