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110-year-old woman looks back on long life

By Jay Kenworthy, the Star Press

 December 8, 2003

Muncie, Indiana- If Bertha Fry's voice sounds shaky and worn, don't worry. It's only because she has spoken so many words.

If her eyesight seems poor, that's OK. She has seen more than most people.

Her body might not be quite what it was 20 years ago and certainly not what it was 90 years ago, but that's just fine. At 110, Fry's mind is as bright as her pearly smile.

Fry was born Dec. 1, 1893, on a farm in Vevay, a small town in southeastern Indiana. She has lived in the Hoosier state all but four years of her life, and on Dec. 1, she celebrated her 110th birthday at Westminster Village in Muncie.

It runs in the family

"She's an example of all the good things about growing old," Westminster administrator Betty DeVoe said of Fry. "Her mind is phenomenal."

DeVoe says her oldest resident is about as independent as a person in an assisted living home can be. She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment, gets ready by herself every morning and walks from the far wing to the cafeteria three times a day.

"When you get to be as old as I am, you have to have help of some kind," Fry said in a recent interview. DeVoe, however, disagreed.

"We don't do anything for her," DeVoe said quietly enough so Fry couldn't hear.

Fry moved into Westminster in 1978 at the age of 84, but the village is a far cry from her farm roots in Vevay.

Fry seemed destined for longevity, despite the fact that she was born on a farm in the late 19th century. According to AARP, the life expectancy for a white female born in 1900 was 51 years, but her family had a history of long life.

Although she cannot remember his exact age, Fry says her paternal grandfather lived well into the 1900s. Her mother lived to be almost 90, and her dad lived to be 95.

Fry almost didn't have the chance to realize her potential for longevity. She needed to have her tonsils and adenoids removed at age 16. Her life could have ended then.

"They used a fork with two tongs," Fry said of the old procedure. "And they used local anesthetic, but they didn't wait long enough for it to work."

Fry explained that something went wrong during the surgery.

"Another doctor came in and held me for a couple of hours," she said. "They thought I was going to bleed to death."

A whole new world

As a youngster, her family was always on the cutting edge of technology. They were among the first in the town to have a radio, telephone and electricity.

"My father worked hard to get a telephone," Fry said. "He listened to the radio at noon, when they gave the farm prices, then he would call the other farmers to tell them."

Fry said her life didn't change much before the telephone came along. It changed again when she went to Hanover College.

"It opened up a whole new world for me because there were people there from all over," she said.

Fry met her first husband at Hanover before returning to Vevay to teach at her old one-room schoolhouse. She taught for four years before raising her two children. Her first husband died in the late 1930s and she married her second husband during World War II.

This husband may have been her soul mate. She went to grammar school with him and they grew up together. They fell in love and married after their first spouses died.

Fry has since outlived that husband. She didn't say exactly when he died.

"I've been alone for a long time," she said.

Fry 's two children - who are in their late 70s - five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren keep her company. And she remembers everything about them.

She joyfully discusses her extended family and their spouses, even though most of them are spread across Indiana and the rest of the country.

Some of them are working to get Fry registered as one of the oldest people in the world.

This milestone age doesn't matter much to her, she says. She worries more about her family.

"I want them to live," she says of her children and grandchildren. "I'm so near the other world that I don't know sometimes if I'm in this one or out of it."

Copyright 2002 Global Action on Aging
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