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Published: Wednesday, 1/5/2005

Oregon: No secrets, just living, outliving

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Weak and feverish, a teenaged Eleanora watched from her window as uniformed men marched down the street and celebrated the end of a world war. It was the first one, and many at the time claimed it would be the last.

On that day in 1918, Eleanora Mockensturm Gillman was living and witnessing history on two fronts in Tiffin.

Her mother swaddled the 14-year-old girl in a blanket and carried her to the window to watch. She was one of the millions that year who suffered from an vicious influenza that swept the world in what is known as the last flu pandemic.

Her teeth became loose and her stomach raw from the 1918 medicine.

She would survive, barely, just like she would cancer 50 years later. She would see another world war and several smaller conflicts over the years. She's outlived all of her diseases, she says.

The white-haired writer of letters - she writes hundreds a year to pen pals all over the world - described that memory on New Year's Day, 100 years and one day after her birth on Dec. 31, 1904. Her family, a big family, celebrated her 100th birthday at the Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart House in Oregon, where she lives. She has four living children, 24 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great grandchildren.

The slightly stooped Eleanora pulled a worn U.S. silver dollar from her pocket with 1904 on its face, a gift to celebrate the achievement that causes younger humans to marvel - younger humans, meaning her grandchildren in their 40s and 50s and her sons in their 60s and 70s.

She can hear, write, read, walk, and is so sharp, tacks are jealous.

She first married at 23 1/2, she said, and "I had my first child nine months and seven days later," she said, just so everyone was clear.

Mrs. Gillman graduated St. Mary's elementary school in Tiffin and then from Ursuline Academy High School. She trained to be a nurse in Toledo in 1926 at what is now St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and worked at St. Charles Mercy Hospital.

Mrs. Gillman outlived her first and second husbands and three of her children. She received her first driver's license at age 96 after her second husband died.

"She thinks she's outlived all of her diseases," said granddaughter Marsha Tucker.

The ardent Democrat perks up about politics. She lived through the Great Depression and the New Deal.

"Dad and mother never had a car; we walked a lot of places," she said. "The Depression was bad, but we got through it. We didn't have any money in the bank for 25 years."

She didn't like President Reagan and doesn't like President Bush, she said. President Jimmy Carter was her favorite because of his work now with Habitat for Humanity, she said.

"Carter got a dirty deal from Reagan," she said. She voted for an independent this year, she said.

"I think the world right now is in a terrible place. I've never failed to vote," she said. Women won that right after the famous convention in 1919 in Seneca Falls, N.Y. She was 15.

She smoked when she was younger and drinks fuzzy navels, an alcoholic mixed drink, at celebrations, like the one just the other night for her birthday at Cousino's Navy Bistro at The Docks in East Toledo.

"Her prayers and her writing are what have kept her going," said her 67-year-old son, Richard Mockensturm, who helped her up, so she could use her walker.

She doesn't have a secret to long life, only constant writing and reading, she said. Stamps are her favorite gift.

"I slowed down this month; I was afraid I wouldn't make it," she said. "Oh yeah, I've had a good life. I just kept on going and time flew."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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