- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

BRADLEY, Ill. (AP) - Agnes Gresen, of Bradley, doesn’t hesitate to fire up her 1985 Buick Regal and head out for the ingredients she’ll need for a big batch of soup. Or maybe she’ll get a 40-pound bag of bird seed for the flock that dines on her deck, where she cleared the snow last week.

Then, on March 1, she might just drive herself over to the Bradley Moose Lodge - for her 100th birthday party.

Yes, Agnes is an independent woman, but she isn’t bragging. She makes it clear that she’s lucky to have good neighbors who look out for her. She’s fully aware of the fact that there are many things that she can’t do anymore.

“I don’t mow the yard, but I can still rake some of the leaves,” she said. “I get some help around the house, but I still pay my own bills and balance my checkbook.”

That self-reliance, she said, was born on the farm. She was the fifth child of John and Kate Saathoff and grew up outside of Danforth. They lived without electricity or running water. They made their own soap. She knows how to butcher a chicken.

“My mother died when I was barely 3. All of us kids were sick at the time. It was that influenza of 1918,” she said, pulling out a newspaper clipping. “See, there were more than 10,000 deaths in Chicago.”

Agnes attended a country school through eighth grade, but started work when she was 13. She moved to the Kankakee area in 1936.

“I was married for 10 years (and then divorced). It was the Depression and, yes, there were a lot of days when there wasn’t any food in the house,” she said. “But I always got by. I cleaned houses. Later, I was the fountain manager at F.W. Woolworth, from 1938 to 1958.”

In fact, she still remembers the prices: “The Swiss steak dinner special was 75 cents. A hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and nuts was 25 cents. A bowl of soup was a dime.”

And she remembers the recipe for the vegetable soup they served in that diner. She still uses it.

She retired in 1969, and spent many years as a volunteer at Riverside Medical Center. Now, she focuses her attention on doing some word puzzles, quilting, watching a little TV and keeping up with her in-home companion, a little black and white dog named Tobey.

“I told you I have some great neighbors? Well, one of them has even told me that she will take Tobey when that day comes,” Agnes said. “Sure, he’s just 7. I have to think he’ll outlive me.”

The Buick will outlast her too, but she isn’t talking about giving up driving just yet.

“Well, I don’t go a lot, but I can do most of what I need to do,” she said. “Like grocery shopping, I like to get out early and do that before the streets get busy. I go to bed early. Maybe 7 or 7:30 and I get up around 4.

“I guess that’s left over from the farm. So, it’s no problem to get out early and get my shopping done.”

She noted that she bought the car new, at the now-defunct Kuipers Buick in Gilman. She’s put only about 78,000 miles on it in 30 years. That’s about only 2,600 miles per year.

“I take good care of it,” she said. “And I try to take care of myself. I only take a couple prescriptions. I watch what I eat. I don’t want to get fat.”

She definitely wants to look good for that party at the Moose.

“I want to see everyone again, people from Woolworth’s and Riverside, neighbors and people from my church,” she said. “I have to say the people from my church are so nice to me. They’re always asking if they can do something for me.

“They all want to help, but I don’t need it.”

Agnes summarizes that it was hard growing up without her mother. And it’s been lonely, with all of her family members passing away while she lived on, but her mood is upbeat.

“I have been very blessed,” she concluded.

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1ukUvZK

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Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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