Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

May 10, 2013

Centenarians at Park Lane Village share their stories

By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express

---- — Being fortunate enough to live to be 100 years old does not seem to happen that often. Having more than one person that age living under the same roof is rare. As for Park Lane Village, which has four centenarians – and one just a couple of months shy of triple digits – there may not be word for that.

The young ladies in question are Mary Ann Johnson (100), Vera Beaver (101), Letha Schakel (103 ½), Helen Roberts (105) and Maxine Lister (99).

Lister, clearly the youngest among them, will celebrate her 100th birthday in July. She was born and raised in Knoxville. After leaving to briefly attend Iowa State University’s teacher college, she returned to her hometown. Through the course of her life, she has had two husbands. Lister said she has been thinking about “going and getting another one.”

She has given birth to a son and daughter. Unfortunately, she lost the daughter to cancer. Lister is also the mother of an adoptive son, Roger Brooks, who still farms outside Knoxville.

“I’m very contented,” she said. Lister passes the time reading and meeting people. Dancing used to be one of her favorite hobbies.

Beaver will celebrate her 102nd birthday on June 17. She has always lived in the Harvey/Tracy area and is a graduate of Tracy High School. In her words, she farmed around Tracy, lived on the Harvey mail route and had a Knoxville phone number.

On the farm, she raised two girls and five boys. The grain and cattle also kept her busy.

“I usually worked all the time,” Beaver said. As for these days, she usually enjoys spending time in her room and participating in some of Park Lane’s activities. One of her best memories she can recall comes from a time she got off the farm and went to England. Things over there were quite interesting to her.

Traveling was something of which Johnson did a great deal. Born in Lee County, Johnson was a tour director for Farm Bureau tours.

“Everybody loved them,” Johnson said. One couple said that if it was not for her, they would not have gone anywhere. She even took a trip to Hawaii, “which they all loved.”

Johnson spent several years as a tour guide and met her husband while he was attending college in Ames. He would come back to visit her every weekend. They were married in the Little Brown Church in Nashua.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said. “Couldn’t have been any better.”

The two enjoyed roller skating and fishing. Oftentimes, they would grill their catch for dinner that evening. They lived on a farm, six miles south of Knoxville, which her son-in-law still farms.

“(There is) nothing better than living on a farm,” Johnson said. These days, she spends her time playing bingo, and expressing her appreciation for the people of Park Lane Village.

“There’s no place better than this place, if you have to leave your home,” Johnson said. She still gets back to the farm to visit.

There, in addition to visiting family, she enjoys visiting her son-in-law’s dog, Spanky. Johnson said the dog is smart and can understand everything they say, especially “vet” and “shots.” Spanky usually sits beside her on the deck, overlooking the lake that her husband built for them years ago.

Johnson raised four girls and a boy. Her daughter and oldest son still visit regularly. He also arranged for her to have her picture taken with the governor.

“(It’s) nice to grow old and be respected,” Johnson said. “We should be.” She also likes it when people mistake her for being 75.

“I grew up having a good time and I’m still having a good time,” Johnson said.

Schakel was born on a farm in rural Prairie City and graduated from Monroe High School in 1928. She attended Drake University for one year before dropping out to marry Paul Schakel. The two were together for nearly 72 years before he passed away. They lived on a farm in Monroe.

Though she is deaf today, her children Jane Renaud and Russell Schakel said she spent most of her life as a housewife. She raised two boys and a girl. One of her sons is deceased.

“She worked hard, I know that,” Russell Schakel said. She passed her time farming, gardening and sewing.

“We milked a lot of cows,” Renaud said.

Schakel has been at Park Lane Village for three years. Before moving there, she continued to mow her own yard and kept her own house spotless.

Last, but certainly not least, is Roberts, who has shared her story with the Journal-Express in the past. She was born and raised in Marion County. Dr. Bob Mulkey delivered her.

Roberts maintains a healthy interest in politics, has always taken this newspaper and has traced her ancestry back to 1605 in Ireland. On politics, she believes that “everybody should vote or keep their mouths shut.”

Roberts is always reading. She remains shy about talking about herself because she thinks it will sound like bragging. She has always loved fishing, camping, traveling and learning as much as she can. Prior to being “stuck in a wheelchair,” she did a lot more. That still does not stop her from making the most of every day.

“I just enjoy life,” Roberts said.