Five years ago the UN figured there were 316,000 centenarians worldwide, with most being in the US.
In 2010, Montana had 175 centenarians. Read today's Flathead Beacon to learn about some.
My Great Aunt Sylvia was one of them, and I’d like to tell you a little about her today.
Her dad was born in 1879.
Her mom was born in 1896.
She was born in 1917.
The Great War was in its third year and Woodrow Wilson had just been sworn-in for his second term.
The stock market crash was still 12 years away.
Sylvia weathered the Depression brought about by that stock market crash the way many Montanans did – she lived off the land.
I asked her a couple years ago what it was like living through that time, and she said she never had that many worries – they always had gardens growing food and the fields growing ‘em too.
You might remember from my detailed history of the Strandberg family that Sylvia’s dad lost everything in 1919 in a hailstorm.
From riches to rags overnight, and from being your own boss to working for others. Such was the case during the 1920s and 1930s – Sylvia’s dad managed dairy farms in the Helena valley.
With her schooling done, Sylvia went out to Seattle in 1937. She got married to a man named Fitz in 1940 and had a daughter named Sharon in 1943. Shortly after that another daughter, Marilyn, was born.
Sylvia worked for Shell Oil Company while out there, but then in 1947 they came back to Montana. She then began to work for the State of Montana in 1952.
The Strandberg family has been working for the state for nearly a century.
Sylvia’s mother, Violet Strandberg, worked for the Liquor Control Board for a full career until she was 75. She worked at Shodair Hospital taking care of the newborn babies. She was a member of Eastern Star and the Nile and was very active in the Nile and did a lot of travelling.
Sylvia worked at Fish and Game from June 1954 to June 1965.
From 1965 to 1988 she was in Administration at the Mitchell Building. She worked on some of the first computers for the state, when they were as big as a room.
When she came to Helena the fellow that was the head of IBM perfected a way to get the computers to show the alphabet. It used to be that you could only use numbers, so this was a big breakthrough.
In Seattle, Fitz had been an electrician. Back in Montana, Fitz worked at a service station on Montana and Helena Avenues and then Northwest Motors as shop manager, which they then bought. It was a Chrysler/Plymouth dealer.
The two also managed to raise their daughters.
Sharon graduated from UM and Marilyn from MSU. Sharon was engaged to Jerry Valentine when she graduated. Jerry was in the Air Force and served in Vietnam. Sharon went with him to teach in Thailand and Taiwan during that time.
Then in 1964, Fitz died. Marilyn was a freshman at MSU at the time and it was a hard loss for her. She headed to Europe and spent a year there before coming home and going back school. She met Sue Meadows and they had a ranch in Choteau and she was up there for several years.
Six years later, in 1970, Sylvia married Art Connick. Art owned the garage at the head of Main Street. One time he had a piece of equipment turn over on him and it injured him very badly.
After Art married Sylvia he sold the business, perhaps with some prodding from her. He then ran for County Commissioner as a Republican and won, winning reelection as well. This was the reason why Art and Sylvia had a Montana license plate with just a “1” on it for so many years.
But nothing lasts forever. Art died while in office, in 1977.
And so began 40 years of being alone. Sylvia lived on a few acres of land on Alfalfa Drive, a mile or so north of Capital High School.
Friends and family visited often, though not as much in the later years. Each time I went out there Sylvia would be watching the news, the volume turned up about as high as it could go.
She did a good job with living, never having to go into a nursing home. She did have attendants come each day to help her out, especially with meals.
And boy, was she still sharp!
I got all the information you just read when I went to see her two years ago. There was no memory loss with her!
I asked her what the secret to living to 100 was once, and she didn’t really have an answer. I think that was during her 98th birthday, one that saw lots of people brining her fresh vegetables from their gardens.
I think that’s a big part of it – she ate right.
She worked – putting in over 35 years with the State.
And she lived well – for just over 100 years.
Now she’s gone from the state she lived and worked in for so long.
Sylvia died on Friday night just after 10 PM, and four days after she turned 100.
Rest in peace, Great Aunt Sylvia.