CRETE, Ill. —107 years goes by in the blink of an eye. Just ask Catherine Walter, the Village Woods centenarian who turned 107 last Friday.
Catherine says she came to live at Village Woods when she was “one-hundred-and-a-half” years old. She had been living in an apartment in Thornton, and, as her eyesight began to wane, her family urged her that, even though she enjoyed living alone, it was not safe anymore.
Her family thought that Village Woods was “the ideal place,” close to the communities where she had lived her life in Dolton and Thornton, and with help at the ready if she needed it. But even at Village Woods, she resided in the independent living wing, and, only in recent years, has moved to assisted living.
Friday she celebrated her remarkable birthday with 100 of her closest family and friends at her home at Village Woods.
“You had to put a nickel in it to get the operator,” the Village Woods centenarian says about her family’s first telephone.
Catherine lived through both World Wars, 20 presidents, and the Great Depression. She had the first radio on her block, and, later, the first television.
Catherine describes the family telephone, also the first one on the block where she lived.
“You had to put a nickel in it to get the operator,” she says.
Catherine says they had more calls for her neighbors than for her own family. “Young girls would give our number to their boyfriends. A call would come, and we would run through the neighborhood—and it was so cold sometimes– looking for the girl so we could tell her she got a call.”
“Then,” she says, “my mother would shoo us out of the room so the couple could talk in private.”
Her family had the first car on their street, and “it was a Ford,” she says, proudly. “All the children in the neighborhood envied me.”
Another one of her favorite memories is Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. “We followed that story so diligently,” she says. “And we all felt so sorry about what happened to his child,” she says, referring to the kidnapping and death of Lindbergh’s son.
She also vividly remembers life as a child during World War I. Soldiers guarded the bridge near her home, and they interacted frequently with her and the other children.
“I think they missed their own children very much, and spending time with us helped them feel better.”
When the war ended, the teachers gave each child a flag, and they marched through the town singing.
But war also brought loss for her. Her brother-in-law was killed in World War II.
“He had a baby boy he never saw,” she says.
“I’d get so interested in my books that I’d forget to sleep.”–Village Woods centenarian remembers.
With a lack of advanced technology, it may be difficult to imagine how children spent their time back when Catherine was growing up.
“I read a lot,” she says, noting that she especially enjoyed reading the Bobbsey Twins books.
Her parents made sure she always had reading material. One of her favorite things about that time was that she and her siblings enjoyed reading serial novels, and each child would have a different book in the series, so they passed the books around and shared so everyone would get to read the whole story.
This was especially helpful, as there were no public libraries when Catherine was a child.
“I’d get so interested in my books that I’d forget to sleep.”
The family also enjoyed playing games, especially jacks, and on Sunday afternoons, her mother would play with the girls while her father played with the boys.
“I often sit and reminisce about the different things we did,” she says.
As cars were uncommon, Catherine relied on public transportation during much of her youth. She tells stories of taking streetcars to school and the IC (Illinois Central railroad) to work every day when she was a young adult.
At the insurance company where she worked in Chicago, she made $15 a week, working 5 1/2 days. “The train was $7.50 a month, so I had to work half a week to pay to get to work,” she says.
She also fondly remembers picking out her $15 wedding dress, and the veil for an additional $12.50. She was married on an unseasonably hot day on September 12, 1931, with temperatures reaching the 90s, and one of her best friends sitting uncomfortably during the ceremony in her brand new, sweltering velvet gown.
Her husband Bill died in September of 1992, just a few days shy of 61 years of marriage.
“When you’re eating and baking cookies, everybody gets along,” says a Village Woods centenarian.
When you know the life story of Catherine Walter, a story that is still going strong, you will see a theme of faithfulness.
Catherine taught Sunday School to 3- and 4-year olds at St. Paul Lutheran Church for 43 years, where she was a lifelong member. “It was a joy to teach them,” she says. “They were so interested and anxious to learn.”
In Catherine’s own family, she was one of six children. She had four children of her own, along with 9 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and 6 great-great-grandchildren.
Generations before Catherine, her grandmother had begun a tradition of baking Christmas cookies during the holiday season, and that was passed down to Catherine’s mother, and then Catherine herself. Catherine misses baking, and tells a story of how it helped heal her during a difficult time.
When Catherine’s husband Bill passed away, and with the holidays coming up, the prospect of spending a Christmas without the love of her life loomed before her. So she threw herself into baking.
“I made more than 10,000 Christmas cookies that year,” she says. “It made me happy to spend time with the rest of my family, and it stopped me from thinking about [Bill].”
Today, the tradition continues, and Catherine still gets together with family for holiday baking.
“When you’re baking and eating cookies,” she says, “everybody gets along.”
Catherine’s granddaughter and frequent guest Heidi Parent is thankful for “what a big part of my life she’s been. Family get togethers were all at Grandma’s house, and we went to the same church.”
Catherine speaks highly of her upbringing in a Christian home.
“My parents saw to it that I went to Sunday school and church.” For that, she says, “I have much to be thankful for.”
Village Woods centenarian says, “I feel very fortunate to still be living.”
Her family has a history of long life. All of Catherine’s siblings lived into their 80s, and she still has a 94-year-old sister living in Nebraska. Her father lived to the age of 95.
Catherine has survived both breast and colon cancer. “I feel very fortunate to still be living,” she says.
The Village Woods centenarian has advice for anyone looking to live a full, rich life: “Trust in the Lord and follow His directions. He’ll take care of you if you just put your trust in Him.”
And if Catherine’s life tells us just one outstanding truth, it is that it doesn’t matter whether or not you have the only telephone on the block, or the latest iPhone–because it isn’t the phone that will be treasured as much as the phone call. Whether you take a car or take the IC to get somewhere, what matters is the journey. These are just things, and there will be more things, and less things. There will be ups and there will be downs, and, mainly, there will be so many memories in between, like holiday baking and Sunday school and other seemingly unremarkable events that form a truly remarkable life.
Our residents each have a unique, remarkable story. This is the story of one Village Woods centenarian. We are so proud to be a part of all of their stories.
For more information on Village Woods, go to www.VillageWoods.com.