‘I just lived’
Heritage Pointe resident celebrates 100th birthday
MARSHALL — In a room full of other Heritage Pointe Senior Living tenants on Friday, Ed VanNevel celebrated his 100th birthday.
The centenarian cracked a smile when one resident said he was “finally an antique” and another said he was “priceless now.” Known for his good sense of humor, VanNevel had a witty response to his secret of living a long life.
“No secret,” he said. “I just lived.”
But no doubt there have been monumental changes since his birth on Sept. 15, 1918. Affordable Model T’s were the most popular car, having been introduced by Henry Ford in 1908. According to Good Housekeeping, a runabout version that seated two people cost $500, or roughly $8500 today. And gallon of gas sold for about 25 cents.
When asked what changes he has seen over the course of a century, VanNevel said, “All of them.”
Back then, World War I was close to coming to an end (Nov. 11, 1918), eventually claiming 16 million lives. But the 1918 influenza pandemic was in full swing. The horrific flu lasted for only 15 months, but reportedly killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, becoming the deadliest disease outbreak in human history.
Another curse, though much lesser in impact, was just about to get started. After the Boston Red Sox won the 1918 World Series and traded Babe Ruth, the “Curse of the Bambino” would be felt for 86 years, until the team won the championship again in 2004. The 1918 World Series also marked the first time “The Star Spangled Banner” was performed at a major league game (Sept. 5, 1918).
Shortly after becoming an American citizen one hundred years ago, Irving Berlin wrote the original “God Bless America,” though he set it aside for 20 years. Time zones and daylight savings time were also recently established, as was the first regularly scheduled airmail service in the United States.
“I could say horses and tractors, but I think the biggest is airplanes,” VanNevel said in response to being asked what one of the biggest changes has been in his lifetime. “From 1902 till now, what a change there has been in airplanes.”
When VanNevel was born, Woodrow Wilson, Democratic governor of New Jersey, was the U.S. President. While known for his foreign policy and leadership during WWI, Wilson also came to support the right of women to vote — the 19th amendment was eventually passed by Congress in 1919.
VanNevel shared that his favorite president was probably Eisenhower “for the highway system.” Eisenhower served as President from 1953 to 1961. Transportation was lot different when VanNevel was young.
“I drove a horse to school for five years,” VanNevel said. “My dad rented a barn for the daytime. I started going to country school for two years. Then I attended The Academy in Marshall.”
St. Joseph’s Academy opened its doors in September 1900. Fifty years later, the Catholic school was renamed Holy Redeemer.
“I went there through the sixth grade,” VanNevel said. “From then on, I went to country school, through eighth grade.”
VanNevel grew up five miles south of Marshall.
“We used horses to farm,” he said. “I stayed home from school to drive horses. I had ponies to ride, too. My dad would drive a single-row picker with six horses on it. Can you imagine having the lines for six horses in your hands? And I had to drive the wagon to catch the corn.”
Growing up, VanNevel recalls the circus coming to town. “Right on the corner there where the fire station is was a big pasture,” he said. “They called it Deschepper Pasture. That’s where all the big circuses were.”
VanNevel said he enjoyed watching 12 different men pound a stake into the ground.
“They each hit it about twice,” VanNevel said. “That’s what it took to bury the stake to tie the elephants on. They’d also put all these animals in cages. The horses were well-trained. They’d step out and the guy would snap his whip and they’d jump right back. And they had a ferris wheel that, of course, I rode on.”
The centenarian also recalls listening to the radio. VanNevel didn’t get his first television until 1953.
“I remember Orson Welles and ‘The Martians are Coming,'” he said. “That was on the radio — that’s all we had to listen to. I got scared and called my folks up.”
“The Martians are Coming” was Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” and it reportedly caused mass hysteria and panic across America.
“They put on some good (radio) shows, I’ll tell you,” VanNevel said.
On June 23, 1941, he was married. Ed and Beatrice VanNevel had eight children — Larry, Alicia, Roger, Donald, Mary, Kevin, Ellen and Dean. In a questionnaire presented to him by Karen Alfson, Heritage Pointe community life director, VanNevel said “getting married” was the luckiest thing that had ever happened to him and that his kids were his heroes.
“When Dad was born, where the Lyon County Apartments are, that was called Dr. Gray’s Hospital,” 75-year-old daughter Alicia Nolte said. “Dad was born there. Then I was born across the street. The doctor didn’t make it quick enough, so my dad delivered me. He was 25 years old at the time.”
Ed VanNevel said he likes sharing stories when asked. The saddest and most difficult one to tell is about the death of his 6-year-old son Larry.
“It was a long time ago –back in 1948 — we had a bad accident, which killed our oldest son,” he said. “It happened at 9 o’clock in the morning (on the way to church). He was just going to start first grade in the fall.”
VanNevel’s legacy includes 15 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
“Between his children, our spouses, our kids, their spouses and our grandkids — his great-grandkids — there are 64 of us,” daughter Mary Stanton said. “There’s a couple of grandkids who aren’t married, but they have significant others and I included them in that number. We’re not sure how many of his nieces and nephews and their kids might be stopping in, too.”
A majority of the family members are expected to be in attendance between 2-4 p.m. today, when the 100-year-old birthday boy has a second celebration.
“There’ll be cake and refreshments, of course,” Stanton said.
Alfson said Friday’s party marked the first one she’s arranged for a century-old resident.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” she said. “His actual birthday is (today), but I wasn’t going to be here, so I really wanted to do something special (Friday). Ed has a special place in my heart. It’s also National Assisted Living Week and the theme is ‘Capture the Moment.’ So each day, we’ve kind of done something to capture the moment.”
Of course, celebrations for individuals who turn 100 have to top all the rest.
“It was funny because I decorated the room a little more than I do with normal birthday parties and the residents are like, ‘This is really nice,'” Alfson said. “And I said, ‘You’ll get this kind of party if you live to be 100.'”
While enjoying cake and ice cream, Alfson led a short program. She revealed that VanNevel’s favorite thing to spend money on was ice cream and sunny days cheered him up. “Amos and Andy” was his favorite TV show and his favorite decade was the ’70s.
“He said the best advice he ever received was to keep his fingers away from the fan,” Alfson said. “His advice for young people is to live an honest life. What made him have a good life was just living one day at a time.”
Afterward, many of those in attendance expressed birthday wishes and congratulated VanNevel, who then shared his only regret.
“I only wish I could be here when you guys turn 100,” he said.