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Independent, sharp at 105

Lila Strand at her country home. Photo by Scott Thoma

When Lila Strand was married in 1936, she and her late husband, Henry, moved to a farmstead in West Central Minnesota. Now, 81 years later, she still resides in that home.

“I was in a nursing home for awhile a few years ago,” she said. “But they felt I didn’t need to be there so I went back home.”

Living alone and taking care of yourself isn’t uncommon unless you consider the fact that Strand celebrated her 105th birthday on March 12.

“I get by,” she said with a smirk on her face. “The one thing is that I don’t leave the house anymore. I had two vertebrae removed a long, time ago, and I can’t sit for long periods of time. so I don’t travel anymore.”

A home health nurse checks on her and a niece that lives a few miles away checks on her from time to time and brings her things she might need. A neighbor to the north brings her the mail. And she wears a medic-alert bracelet in case she falls or has an accident. Otherwise, Strand is on her own.

“I have to use that thing to get around,” she said, pointing to a walker next to the kitchen table where she is seated. “I can do most everything myself, but I don’t use the stove anymore.”

Instead, Strand makes her hot meals in the microwave.

“I usually always have cereal in the morning, nodding toward a box of Rice Krispies stationed on the counter. “And I have a banana or another piece of fruit. And there are so many things now that I can cook in the microwave. Schwan’s comes to my house, and I order a lot of things I can make in the microwave from them. I like their chicken and their cheeseburgers.”

The first thing Strand does when she wakes every morning is turn the radio on to KLQP in Madison.

“That’s the only station I like to listen to,” she said. “I don’t watch very much TV. The only thing I really watch is the Weather Channel, the Appleton station (Pioneer Public TV) and sometimes I’ll watch the Antiques Roadshow.”

Reading and doing puzzles are two of Lila Strand’s hobbies. Photo by Scott Thoma

Strand also loves to read and has subscriptions to four area newspapers.

“I read a lot,” she said. “I like to keep up with what’s going on since I don’t travel anymore. My hearing isn’t great, but my eyes are still pretty good.”

And so is her memory. She rarely hesitated when asked a question about her past, including names and dates.

When asked who the president of the United States was when she was born in 1912, she responded “I know Woodrow Wilson was (elected) that year. Howard Taft was actually the sitting president at the time, but Wilson won the election in November of 1912. And there have been 17 presidents since that time.

Strand is also in excellent condition for someone who has lived for 1,204 months and was born five years before World War I had even started.

“This is the only pill I take,” she said, proudly, while opening a bottle and revealing the contents of blood pressure pills broken in two. “I only take a half-pill a day. Isn’t that something? Sometimes I’ll take a Tylenol if I need one, but that’s it.”

So, Lila, let us all in on your secret to such good health that a person can live alone and basically care for herself at 105 years old.

“There’s no secret. None at all,” she insisted. “Life isn’t easy. You just take it one day at a time. I know I’m fortunate to be able to still live in my home, but there isn’t anything I can tell you as far as any secrets. I’m just thankful for what I’ve got.”

Strand attended school in a one-room schoolhouse.

“There were 30 kids in that little school. I went to school until eighth-grade. We had eight months of learning and one month of religion each year.”

Initially, Strand wanted to become a nurse. But her mother passed away when Lila was in eighth-grade and as the oldest of four siblings, basically became the mother of the household.

“Since I was the oldest, I had to take on a lot more responsibilities after my mother died,” she said. “I was the oldest of four kids. My younger brother got Scarlet fever, and I had to take care of him. And when I got older, I took care of my sister-in-law who had cancer and my husband who had Alzheimer’s. So I actually did become a nurse in some ways.”

When Strand and her late husband, Henry, were married, they farmed and lived at the current site. Their lone son, John, who is currently in a nursing home in Benson, was named after her husband’s brother who was killed in World War I.

“They shared the same birthday, too,” she remarked. “August 21st.”

Strand helped on the farm by milking cows, collecting eggs and taking care of the home.

“I used to have a big garden with vegetables and flowers,” she said. “I always loved being outside and working in the garden.”

To pass the time now, Strand enjoys working crossword puzzles and has several books that she receives as gifts.

“People bring me these books when they visit,” she said. “I like to do them because it calms me. But I’m not very good at them at all. It’s just something to do.”

Strand admits she enjoys when someone stops by to visit as life in the country gets lonely sometimes.

“But I like when they only stay a short while,” she laughed. “Since I can’t sit for a long time, and I usually go and lie on my bed to rest.”

She isn’t exactly alone on the farmstead, though. Looming outside the house are numerous cats in all sizes and colors.

“I don’t know how many are out there now,” she said. “Nine or 10 maybe. I don’t let them in the house, though. People that come over to visit always feed the cats for me. That’s probably why there are so many out there.”

When Lila turned 105 on March 12, she had a lot of well-wishers at her home.

“I got a lot of flowers for my birthday,” she said. “I love flowers. I miss working in the garden so it’s nice when I get flowers from people.”

And just like the flowers bringing joy into her life, so to has Lila bought joy into many people’s lives over the past 105 years.

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