Monday, August 4, 2008

108 Years of Staying Active

Original Source - The News & Observer:

Centenarian stayed active with her hands and her mind

Andrea Weigl, Staff Writer

When Olga Wilsberg was born, William McKinley was president. In her 108 years, she saw 18 other U.S presidents take office.

But if Wilsberg knew the secret to a long life and a sharp mind, she never shared it.

"I don't know why. I'm just hanging on," she said three years ago in an interview with her hometown paper, The Daily Reflector in Greenville, N.C.

Wilsberg died June 12.

Her family credits her active lifestyle -- one that involved baking, sewing, card playing, reading, daily walks and exercise for most of her 100-plus years. She didn't smoke and only occasionally drank a glass of wine or the half a glass of beer that she preferred when eating pizza.

"My mother's mind, up to the day she died, was perfect," said her son, Harold Wilsberg, 83, of Mattituck, N.Y. "She could remember everything."

Her granddaughter agreed. "She was alert until the end," said Sharon Cummings of Raleigh.

Olga Wilsberg was born in Greenport, a town on Long Island, N.Y. She was the second youngest of nine children. One of her earliest memories was being hit by a car at the age 6 or 7. She remembered lying under the car after being hit and looking up to see the brass kerosene lamps that served as headlights, according to Cummings.

She graduated from the eighth grade. At the age of 21, she married Ernest Wilsberg and moved 13 miles down the road to Mattituck, N.Y. They had two sons and a daughter.

Life in the Great Depression

Her relatives say she was a product of her times. She learned to be frugal, a habit held over from raising a family during the Depression. Her husband worked as an engineer on yachts and traveled to Florida for months at a time. She often was left alone to raise their children, especially during the winter.

She made friends with the local farmers who would let her pick berries and beans left on the vine. She would can the fruits and vegetables and stock her pantry with them. One day when a nor'easter blew a load of scallops onto the beach, she filled pillowcases with them and then called her neighbors to do the same.

In the summer, she would rent rooms to tourists for $12 a week. Her children would sleep on the back porch to make room for boarders.

"Those were tough times in the early 1930s," said her daughter, Doris Jenkins of Greenville.

Wilsberg and her husband eventually bought a house in Florida and split their time between the Northeast and the South. In the 1980s, they came to live with Jenkins in North Carolina. In 1985, Wilsberg's husband, who also lived to the century mark, died. Afterward, the mother and daughter settled into life together in Greenville.

Sharon Cummings recalls her grandmother, who also was known as "Gram," as an active woman. She was constantly baking, knitting baby clothes, crocheting and quilting. She played a mean hand of gin rummy and spades. She devoured books from the library. She had her hair rolled and curled.

Cummings said her grandmother also was prone to speak her mind.

"She was not just passive, sitting in her chair," Cummings said. "She was telling me how to raise my children whether I wanted to know or not."

Wilsberg stayed in excellent health. She told The Daily Reflector that she didn't even take aspirin. She lived with her daughter until she was 106.
After her death on June 12, Cummings, her granddaughter, said the hospice workers told her, "Her mind was still there. Her body just gave up."

* * *

Olga Wilsberg was married to her husband, Ernest, for 66 years until he died in 1985. She is survived by two sons, Ernest Wilsberg and Harold Wilsberg, both of Mattituck, N.Y.; a daughter, Doris Jenkins of Greenville; nine grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and four great-great grandchildren.

Staff writer Andrea Weigl can be reached at 829-4848 or

No comments: