Four women at Janesville's St. Elizabeth's Nursing Home are 100 years old or older

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Sarah Zimmermann
July 16, 2015

JANESVILLE—In 1915, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, and Babe Ruth hit his first Major League home run.

For four women at St. Elizabeth Nursing Home in Janesville, 1915 featured more modest milestones: saying their first word, taking their first step, learning to run.

The word “centenarian” is used to describe a person who is 100 years old or older. A typical nursing home might have one or two centenarians, but St. Elizabeth has four, which is unusual, said Emily Schumaker, who works in social services at St. Elizabeth.

Meet Alice Conway, 101, Cecilia Ekwall, 102, Marion Ludwig, 101, and Vera Muenchow, 100, all of whom live at St. Elizabeth.


Originally from Evansville, Alice has lived in Janesville since 1938.

While raising six children, Alice would sew and read while still remaining active in the community, said her daughter Mary Baldwin.

What is the secret to a long life? Alice's secret is her devotion to faith, Baldwin said. She walked to church every day and stayed active in her faith community.

“She is a very spiritual person,” her daughter said.

Two of her children have died, and her faith helped her through those difficult times, Baldwin said.

Alice always thought family was important, Baldwin said, and she always loved it when all the children were home. Alice has 16 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

What's the biggest change she's experienced? Technology. Alice used to ride in a buggy, and the first time she was in a plane, she was “scared out of her mind,” Baldwin said.


Cecilia is originally from Chicago. Her family used to own a bakery in Chicago, which led to her affinity for sweets, said Connie Field, a friend of Cecilia's.

When Cecilia was in her 20s, she rode motorcycles and was always a “go-getter,” Field said.

Her last vacation was in 2002, when she went to the Badlands in South Dakota. Even though she was in her 80s at the time, she was still able to walk and explore, Field said.

She kept an “immaculate” house, Field said, and made sure everything was clean.

Her favorite hobby is getting together with friends to play cards and listening to music.

Cecilia always made sure she dressed well. Once, Field asked Cecilia why her toes were so crooked. Cecilia blamed her love of fashion and the high heels she often wore.

“(Cecilia) would say, 'When you want to look nice, wear high heels. If the heels don't fit, wear them anyway,'” Field said.


None of the women thought they would live to 100.

“It (100 years old) sounded so far away,” Marion said.

Marion has lived in Janesville her entire life. She used to work at the Parker Pen Company in inspection and on the factory line.

For years, she and some of her co-workers would go out to restaurants together, where they would eat breakfast and enjoy one another's company.

Marion got married when she was 24. She said it was the time in her life she remembers most fondly.

While she never had children of her own, Marion is close to her nieces and nephews.

“She's very special to us,” said niece Joyce Hanson.


Vera is originally from Portage, but for years she worked as the head nurse on the orthopedic floor at Mercy Hospital in Janesville.

Vera said her faith helped her reach 100 years old. She involved herself in church, including the altar guild and Bible classes.

Family has always been of the utmost importance to Vera. Ginger Muenchow, Vera's daughter-in-law, said Vera would host every holiday at her house, where the family would play games and eat big meals. Vera has two children, five grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.

The world has noticeably changed over the last 100 years, with advances in technology being one of the biggest changes. Jerry Muenchow, Vera's son, said they used to gather around the radio and listen to radio shows before they had television.

Vera still has a lively sense of humor. During a conversation with her son and daughter-in-law, she talked about her daughter, Sandra.

"Yes, she is a wonderful daughter," Vera said, before looking over at Jerry sitting next to her.

"And he's OK, too," Vera said, smiling.

Midway through the interview, Vera shrugged off her fluffy pink cardigan.

“You would think it was winter,” she quipped about her outfit.

Her advice for those younger than she is? Treat everyone "fair and equal."

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