The longest human life on record is 122 years. The British scientist Aubrey de Grey has made a name for himself arguing that 150-year lifespans are not only within reach, but that the first human being who will reach that milestone has already been born. De Grey’s arguments are speculative and controversial, but human lifespans are lengthening and life expectancy inches upward. Spokesman-Review photographer Kathy Plonka photographed and interviewed five people who have lived beyond 100 to see what they thought of living another half-century. The following passages are edited and condensed from those conversations.
Virginia Harger, 101
Virginia worked as a dietitian and university professor for most of her life, much of it in Ohio. She lives at the Rockwood Retirement Center in Spokane. Virginia served in the Army in World War II as a dietitian at a military hospital in the San Fernando Valley.
“All the troops that were injured or became ill in the South Pacific would come by hospital ship to Long Beach, and that was pretty close, and they would bring them to our hospital. We were close to Hollywood. I don’t know whether you remember Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Well, Desi was attached to our unit at the hospital, with special services. He got a lot of the Hollywood actors and so on to come up to the hospital. Bob Hope brought his troupe to the hospital. He came out and had a Christmas show at our hospital.”
How would you like to live to 150?
“Until about age 95 or 96, I had fine health and was very blessed. At this point, with these legs that I’ve bummed up, I’m not eager to live to 150. It’s too much to remember and too many bumps along the way, for me anyhow. It’s particularly hard to slow down to a walker and a wheelchair and a cane.”
Any words of wisdom?
“The tongue-in-cheek one that I give is, since I’ve never married I’ve been free to do whatever I’ve wanted and was never bossed around by anyone. My mother said God would have to make a special man to ever suit me.”
Irene Reid, 102
Born in Havre, Mont., Irene raised five children with her husband, Phillip. She’s now living at Riverview Retirement Community in Spokane. Her memory is not what it once was. “It’s hard for me to say what I want to say,” she said.
“My father wanted me to have the name of Eunice, but I wouldn’t say Eunice. Absolutely. So they called me Irene.
“I remember when Phil passed away. When we were married, we didn’t have much money. I got a little band for him and he got a little band for me. Later, when we were working and had a little money, he got me a little diamond.”
Would you want to live to be 150?
“A hundred and fifty? I don’t aspire to be that old. A hundred and two is enough for me. But the Lord determines it, not us, even though we might like to or might want to. My folks always served the Lord. We prayed every night. We had that plaque: A family that prays together stays together. And we keep track of each other.”
Orville Benjamin, 102
Orville and his family moved from Michigan to North Idaho in 1921, making the trip in three Model T’s. He left high school in Coeur d’Alene after two years to work in a box factory, and he retired many years later as general foreman of packaging at Kaiser Aluminum. He lives with his second wife, Anne, in their home in Coeur d’Alene.
“I took early retirement. I figured I’d probably live to be about 75, but I’ve been retired for 43 years.” How do you like life at 102?
“I get tired quicker. It’s not much different than when I was 80. I don’t drive anymore. There’s things I’d like to do that I can’t.”
Do you want to live to 150?
(Laughs) “No. I don’t think I will. If a person is in good health, it’s all right to get old. But if you’re sickly, and ache, no. But I’ve still got all my hair!”
“Live a good, clean life. Sometimes I didn’t, but … I would like to go four more years. I’d like to see my granddaughter get married.”
Herbert Farrar, 104
Herbert spent his life as a Baptist preacher, traveling the country. As a young man, he saw much of the world while working on a steamship - including the chance to “clamber around on the pyramids a little bit.” He lived at Willow Grove Assisted Living in Spokane until he died on Thanksgiving.
“I became a Christian and it caused me to veer in the right direction for life. I suppose I have preached probably 150 or 200 times in revival meetings and so on. We would go into a community and organize and have this evangelistic meeting. And then we’d be there two to three weeks. I would do the preaching, mainly, and singing. I loved to sing. Still love to sing.”
Did you think you’d live to 104?
“I thought I’d be gone long before this. But perhaps the Lord was using me in some specific way.”
Would you like to live to 150?
“Well, I’m the way. I’m on the way to 150. I’m anxious to get there and see what it’s like.”
Edna Leistner, 105
Born in Portland, Edna lost her mother at age 8 and she was raised by a foster family. A registered nurse, she worked in various communities in California, where she and her husband raised their family. She now lives at the Emeritus at Coeur d’Alene retirement community.
How old are you?
“Well, I feel like I’m 2,001. But I doubt that very much. I’m thankful for every day I have and I hope it continues for a while. It’s just interesting to watch the world go round, but I wish it would slow down a little bit.”
How does it feel to be 105?
“To be honest with you I haven’t thought much about it. It’s just been kind of a bore and a nuisance. I try to do things, and I’m interrupted, and I think, ‘My God I’m only one person in all of this world, why do they pick on me?’ (laughs) I haven’t done anything. Gee whiz. But it’s been an interesting life. A very interesting one.”
“Everybody has a normal existence, for heaven’s sake. You make what you have, as much as possible. And what else is there? Stop and think how many people there are on this Earth, and where do you come in? So you do the best you can, wherever you happen to be, and that’s it. You either make it better or you don’t.”