- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - When asked how she manages to live alone at the age of 102, Helen Swick holds up her aged hands.

“With these two hands,” she said. “People think you can’t live by yourself at my age, but you can unless you’re afraid. Nothing has scared me yet.”

Over the past century, Helen has used those hands to complete many tasks as a mother, wife and hard-working woman.

They got dirty with garden soil. They cooked meals for her family, even during the Great Depression when there wasn’t much to come by. They clasped with her husband Stanley’s calloused hands. They sold thimbles and thread at Woolworth’s in downtown Bloomington. They cradled the heads of newborn grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Today, those hands can still stitch delicate floral embroidery and thumb through faded family photographs.

On May 8, the Swick family had more to celebrate than Mother’s Day. The day also marked Helen’s 102nd birthday (she had to do the math to remember if she is turning 102 or 103).

“I figure I can lie about my age at this point,” she said. “I don’t care if I’m 102 or one hundred-and-whatever, I would live my life over. I’d learn more about the hard parts, but I’d live it all over again.”

Helen lives in the neat, white house she and her husband built in 1950 overlooking the western slope of Park Hill Cemetery in Bloomington. Stanley tended the cemetery grounds for 50 years and when he died in 1980, Park Hill is where he was put to rest.

“I think I’m pretty healthy,” said Helen. “Well, I take that back…I can’t run the sweeper.”

Her eye sight and hearing are fading, but she moves easily with a walker. A neighbor helps with cleaning, her grandchildren stop by to cook occasional meals and her son tends to the flower beds under her watchful eye, but for the most part Helen is on her own - like she wants it.

“If something was wrong, she would let us know,” said granddaughter Mildred Lilly of Bloomington. “Grandma knows. She is still strong and so much wiser than us.”

Helen was born in 1914 in a house perched on Miller Park Lake. She was one of eight children in the Peifer family.

“The best time of my life was when I was young,” she said. “We weren’t rich, but we had a good life.”

She said there was always a hub of activity around the lake and the family watched from their front porch. On Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, people would take boats decorated with flags out on the water. Men would wear top hats and tuxedos and the women would don full dresses and ride horses side-saddle along the shore.

“On the west side of the lake it was nothing but roses. They called it the rose path,” she said.

Helen married Stanley Swick in 1931. They raised four children, Dick, Sonny, Betty and Mary. Sonny and Betty are still living. She has 13 grandchildren and “countless” great-grandchildren.

Helen worked for Woolworth’s five-and-dime store from 1945 to 1978. At the notions counter, she sold bobby pins for a nickel and thread for a dime and rationed items during World War II. She remembers the day the war ended.

“Everyone was screaming and hollering. People climbed on top of the buildings around the square to shout and whistle,” she said.

In their 48 years together, Helen and Stanley loved to travel, especially out west to the Dakotas, south to Florida and to Hawaii.

Her grandchildren balk at the fact that she never moved somewhere warmer; she always stayed put in her shady spot on the city’s west side.

“Bloomington is where my kids are,” said Helen. “My kids and their spouses do everything they can for me. I don’t have to want for anything. I have a whole bunch of grandkids and they’re all good. If they ain’t, I tell them.”

After raising children of her own and passing down motherly wisdom, Helen thinks the role of motherhood has evolved over the years.

“You have to learn to change with your children,” she said. “One kid will not be the same as the next. They are all different.”

She added that women should “grow up” before having children and should pay more attention to their kids once they do.

“If you always know what your kids are up to, they’ll be better kids,” she said.

Her granddaughter, Mildred, agrees.

“Grandma’s family has her qualities because she demanded it. She has always been supportive of us and never judged us. We learned honesty is key,” she said.

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Source: https://bit.ly/1TOW5kW

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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