Beau September 21st, 2010
I have always been amazed and heartened by longevity. Not simply that things, or people, can be very old. It’s something more about the fact that as we age, the history of the world goes with us. That and the nature of how we age are simply interesting to me.
I was amazed to read today that the World’s oldest man has marked his 114th birthday in Great Falls, Montana. How incredible!
Walter Breuning was born on Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minnesota, and moved to Montana in 1918, where he worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway for 50 years.
His wife, Agnes, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte, died in 1957. The couple had no children.
Breuning inherited the distinction of being the world’s oldest man in July 2009 when Briton Henry Allingham died at age 113. Allingham had joked that the secret to long life was “Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women — and a good sense of humor,” according to Guinness World Records.
Now there’s some advice I could never imagine that would help to foster longevity! Mr. Allingham must have lived a charmed life. And hey, who am I to argue with success and a 113 year old sense of humor?
The Guinness organization and the Gerontology Research Group each have verified [Walter] Breuning as the world’s oldest man and the fourth-oldest person. Three women were born earlier in the same year as Breuning.
“Walter wasn’t in last year’s edition,” Young joked. “He was too young.”
The Great Falls Tribune reported that Breuning gave a speech before about 100 people at an invitation-only birthday party at the Rainbow Retirement Community, with a guest list that included Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives from Guinness World Records.
Breuning was helped up to a lectern from his motorized cart, appearing somewhat frail but speaking with a strong voice.
He recalled “the dark ages,” when his family moved to South Dakota in 1901 and lived for 11 years without electricity, water or plumbing.
“Carry the water in. Heat it on the stove. That’s what you took your bath with. Wake up in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. That’s not very pleasant,” he said.
How simple and abundant our lives have become. I think of the water he mentions, and what we take for granted today. We flush the toilet a half a dozen times each day, take showers whenever we feel like it, cook, wash and clean using a seemingly endless supply of fresh water, use the hose to water plants and gardens outside the house, and even fill up the chickens’ and pets water dishes…
He [Breuning] said men and women may be able to enjoy life, but they can’t be content without a belief or faith. His parting message to the crowd was one of tolerance.
“With all the hatred in this world, in this good world, let us be kind to one another,” Breuning said.
Breuning has celebrity status at the retirement home, with visitors waiting in line to see him, Ray Milversted, 92, told the Tribune.
Before his birthday party, Breuning declined to name a favorite among the 114 years he has seen.
“Every year is the same,” Breuning told the Great Falls newspaper.
But he criticized one modern invention — the computer.
“When the computer came out, that was one of the worst things,” Breuning said. “They laid off all the clerks on the railroad.”
But, he added, “Every change is good.”
My goodness, what a spirit this man has. Some of the notes about his life were fascinating too:
- Breuning is in excellent health, even after a lifelong habit of smoking cigars, completely quitting in 1999.
- He is able to walk, and eats two meals a day. He still maintains a sharp mind and accurate memory. For example, he can remember his grandfather talking about his experiences in the American Civil War when he was three years old, and remembers the day President William McKinley was shot as the day “I got my first haircut”.
- He has no prescription medications. In November 2007, at the age of 111, Breuning was fitted with hearing aids.
- On his 112th birthday, Breuning said the secret to long life is being active: “[if] you keep your mind busy and keep your body busy, you’re going to be around a long time.”
- In a recent interview, Breuning said, “Every day I exercise. Every morning I do all my exercises.”
During his 113th birthday celebrations, Breuning said:
“Remember that life’s length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein. A useless life is short if it lasts a century. There are greater and better things in us all, if we would find them out. There will always be in this world – wrongs. No wrong is really successful. The day will come when light and truth and the just and the good shall be victorious and wrong as evil will be no more forever.”
I can hardly imagine the things this man has seen and experienced. But I also wonder about his feelings for not having had children.
Obviously we don’t really know how long we’ll live, and truthfully I don’t have a feeling about that, other than to say I’d like to live a happy, healthy life that is long enough… whatever that may be.
Maybe that’s a timely declaration as I have lately become more interested in my health, and working to live a more constructive life. I’d like to share that with others, especially my son, in terms of helping him to achieve a baseline of character strength and well-being that will carry him through his own life in a positive fashion. He’ll be ten years old soon… and as time passes so quickly, the mark of his life will be up to him.
Our lives are filled with change. There is no other way. Like Walter, I strongly believe that change is good, in that we can embrace uncertainty. We can indeed move forward with courage, faith and the conviction that better days will surely come as we face the inevitable challenges that the years bring to our lives.
Walter Breuning is 104 years older than my son… just think, many of our children could live out their years spanning two centuries from Walter’s birth. We can only wonder what the world will look like one hundred years hence.
Walter, may we all share in your wisdom and age as gracefully as you have… and Happy Birthday!