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posted: 5/19/2017 5:23 AM

Some life advice from Carol Stream centenarians

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  • Merle Phillips, 110, gets her portrait taken by Tom Sanders at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream for a project celebrating centenarians.

      Merle Phillips, 110, gets her portrait taken by Tom Sanders at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream for a project celebrating centenarians.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Photographer Tom Sanders gets Karin Jaeger, 100, set for her portrait. "It's nice to give them the time and tell their story," the California shutterbug said. "They're full of wisdom."

      Photographer Tom Sanders gets Karin Jaeger, 100, set for her portrait. "It's nice to give them the time and tell their story," the California shutterbug said. "They're full of wisdom."
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Jean Burja, 100, had her portrait taken at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream.

      Jean Burja, 100, had her portrait taken at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Celebrating 100 years

 
 

The centenarians had their portraits taken, each with some of their dearest possessions.

The occasion? Belmont Village Senior Living is putting together a calendar featuring pictures of its oldest residents across the country. Five live in a Belmont community in Carol Stream.

They posed, not with academic degrees or some other accolade, but with simple keepsakes. During the photo shoot, they also freely gave advice from well-lived lives.

"They're full of wisdom," said Tom Sanders, their photographer this week.

At 110 years old, Merle Phillips is the oldest in the group. For her turn in front of the camera, she wore a butterfly pin and necklace in honor of her husband, a butterfly collector.

He died 49 years ago from leukemia. Phillips never remarried and never forgot the day they met.

She speaks, slowly now, of the party at the University of Iowa where she was a graduate student and saw Leonard Phillips, the man who looked so "distinguished" that she thought he was a professor.

Even without the love of her life, Phillips would remain independently in her Wheaton house with the help of friends until she moved into her Belmont home at 107.

Merle Phillips, a resident at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream, turned 110 last month.
  Merle Phillips, a resident at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream, turned 110 last month. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Phillips has become a beloved figure at Belmont because of her age but also because "she's just an amazing soul," Executive Director Jeanne Hansen said.

For her 110th birthday last month, Phillips didn't want presents but asked for donations to the Spectrios Institute. A GoFundMe page has so far raised about $500 for the Wheaton facility that treats patients with vision problems.

Phillips herself had surgery earlier this year to fix a congenital cataract she had since birth.

"I personally think how she got to be 110 is how she gives to everyone else," Hansen said.

Phillips -- born in Arkansas on April 2, 1907 -- will say the secret to longevity is "just keeping busy."

The voracious reader rides a stationary bike every day for 45 minutes, goes to Bible study twice a week and attends Mass every Sunday at One Church Wheaton. At 72, she wrote the first of 11 books about her life and faith. She's learning to use email on an iPad, one of the birthday gifts she did receive. She also marked the milestone by climbing into the bucket of a ladder truck with Carol Stream firefighters to get an aerial view of Belmont.

"There's nothing she won't try. I have no excuse," Hansen said. "I have to try anything. If she can do it, why can't I?"

One of the newest centenarians in the group, Karin Jaeger, turned 100 May 7. Sanders shot her portrait with an artifact her son found online from the ship that carried her from her native Norway to the United States.

Jaeger attributed her long life to following her grandmother's advice.

"Just be positive. When things go wrong, give it time, and it'll work out," said Jaeger, who lived in Elmhurst and later Wheaton.

Stephen Clark, left, assists his father, Douglas Clark, as he holds a Bible for his portrait at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream.
  Stephen Clark, left, assists his father, Douglas Clark, as he holds a Bible for his portrait at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Douglas Clark, who will turn 100 in August, held a Bible for his portrait. The Class of 1940 Wheaton College graduate taught sociology for 26 years at Baptist colleges in Texas and Oklahoma. Then he began traveling as a pastor for churches in Australia, North Africa and Central America.

"That gave me a chance to meet a lot of wonderful people and get friendships, which have lasted, many of them, for many years," said Clark, who has four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He didn't drink or smoke or hold on to regrets.

"Some years have been better than others in some ways, but I wouldn't trade my life experiences with anyone," he said.

Clark and Phillips also seem to have to come to terms with the end of their lives.

"I don't have anything to do with it," Phillips said. "It's all up to God."

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