What’s the secret to living 106 years? Edith Wylie said it could have something to do with drinking good bourbon, eating Cheetos and simply having good genes.
Wylie, of Bigfork, was one of 124 Montana centenarians recently recognized at the Governor’s Conference on Aging. She is one of six 106-year-olds in the state, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
“Montana centenarians have such amazing stories of resilience, hard work and determination,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “These individuals live each day to the fullest and serve as a shining example for us all.”
Wylie’s life story began in Havre, where she was born in July 1912.
Last week she contemplated her long life as she sat in her room at Rising Mountains Assisted Living, where her door is always open to encourage visitors to come in and chat.
On the window sill are a half-dozen plants, green and growing and intermingled with several pictures taken over 10 decades of life.
Wylie’s youngest years remain sharp in her memory without any prompting from old photos.
The daughter of a railroad conductor and a hard-working homemaker, Wylie grew up close with her parents, brother and sister, and two uncles who also lived in the family home on the edge of town in Havre.
Her house was located across the street from what was once the high school, and she remembers many evenings spent watching cars enter and leave town and listening to programs in the gymnasium from her front porch.
Every summer was spent with her aunt and uncle who owned the Glacier Trading Company in East Glacier. It was there that she picked up her love for dancing, intrigues by an old dance hall down the hill where she’s sneak a peak at the dancers.
Christmas was a highlight of the long winters. She remembers getting a visit from Santa Claus each year. Throughout her childhood she said the bearded man in red paid her and her siblings and cousins a visit. They even had the phone number for the North Pole, she said, and by calling what later turned out to be the local drug store where one of her uncles worked, she could talk to Santa and tell him her Christmas wishes.
It wasn’t until she had grown up and learned her uncle’s secret that her nephew became the first to point out during one special Christmas visit that Santa wore the same shoes as grandpa.
The second oldest graduate of the University of Montana, Wylie earned her English degree during the Great Depression and spent most of her adult life advocating for the education of others, as both a schoolteacher and with over 50 years of membership in PEO, an organization that promotes the education and advancement of women.
For 25 years, Wylie enjoyed watching different children come and go through her fourth-grade classroom.
Every so often, she said, she still reconnects with an occasional former student who passes by her room on their way to visit a relative at the assisted-living center and stops in after recognizing her name.
A classic wooden ruler is displayed on the table in her room, a gift from one of her “big kids,” who recently stopped by to visit.
Other memories of Havre High School include time spent working with her husband, Gus, who once served as the school’s athletic coach, superintendent and principal.
The two met at their church through Gus’ sister and married in the late ’30s, according to Wylie’s daughter, Marian Krummel.
Together they raised three children, two girls and a boy, two of whom are still living.
Krummel described her mother as a terrific homemaker who pushed for her children’s education, and went back to teaching to help pay for their college.
Her life was enriched by little tidbits of advice from her mother, Krummel said. She wrote down several of Wylie’s most common sayings:
• “Drive carefully. It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.”
• “Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.”
• After 106 years, Wylie embodies one of her own sayings particularly well. “Birthdays are good for you,” she often said. “The more you have, the longer you live.”
Still quite active and mentally sharp, Wylie did not enter assisted-living care until last year at 105 years old.
A number of visitors, young and old, pass through her open door every day and with her four grandchildren and six grandchildren, a family visit is almost never far away. And if she has any spare time, Wylie is on Facebook and reads daily from her Kindle — proof that technology can be mastered at any age.
She summed up her wisdom for dealing with the world and with others in one saying that alludes to her days spent in an elementary school classroom.
“We could learn a lot from crayons,” she said. “Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.”
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.