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Published November 09, 2012, 11:40 PM

Happy at 100: Soon-to-be centenarian ponders longevity

FARGO – Isabel Mische loves fashion, football and Chinese food. She’s known for her homemade toffee, chocolate chip cookies and split-pea soup. When she gets up in the morning, she puts on makeup, even if she’s not leaving the house. And in two days, the longtime Fargo resident turns 100 years old.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO – Isabel Mische loves fashion, football and Chinese food.

She’s known for her homemade toffee, chocolate chip cookies and split-pea soup.

When she gets up in the morning, she puts on makeup, even if she’s not leaving the house.

And in two days, the longtime Fargo resident turns 100 years old.

Isabel’s family will be gathering in Fargo today to celebrate her milestone birthday.

Born Mary Della Isabella Lemna to French Canadian parents in Verona, N.D., Isabel was married for 62 years, had the same “beauty operator” (hairstylist) for 52 years, and worked at Mandel’s clothing store (where her starting wage was $1.25 an hour) for 32 years.

She still lives alone (and she’s proud of it!) in a brown-and-teal fourplex with a pink bathroom.

“I read and play bridge and go out to eat, and I still live alone,” she says.

When she was 20, Isabel and her husband, Louis, started going to all of North Dakota State University’s football games.

“In fact, after he died, I had a season ticket every year until last year,” she says.

A little more than a week before her 100th birthday, Isabel reflected on what she calls “a real happy life.”

What are you most thankful for in your life?

I’m very, very thankful for my family, and they’re all so good to me.

What advice would you give for living a long time?

Isabel: Be active. I’m very active. I go out a lot, don’t I?

Mike (Montgomery, one of Isabel’s grandchildren): Yeah, she’s never around.

Isabel: You have to keep busy. If I would have to sit at home all the time, I’d be crazy.

What’s the key to a long, happy marriage?

Well, for one thing, you have to be compatible. We got along great.

Naturally, there are ups and downs in a marriage, but you have to go through that.

What do you miss most about your younger years?

Shoes! I loved shoes, and of course, now I can’t wear high heels because I’d fall. I worked in high heels for all those years.

I still have two or three pairs that I wore, and I can’t believe it. They’re so high. They’re just like the shoes that they’re wearing now.

What’s your secret for looking good at your age?

(While in the hospital for surgery on her hand) one of the nurses who took my blood pressure asked, “What’s your secret?”

I said, “Well, I think I’ve got good genes, and I’ve used Merle Norman Cosmetics for 70 years.”

She told my son, “After your mother said that, all the nurses are switching their cosmetics to Merle Norman.”

How has Fargo changed over the years?

(All three of her children went to NDSU.)

They would walk back and forth, even at night, and we never worried about things like they do today.

My biggest problem was I didn’t want them to smoke. We never even thought of drugs in those days.

How did you first get into football?

My husband loved football. That’s how I learned the game and got to be an addict myself.

What do you like about it?

Everything. I like to win.

Are you a Vikings fan?

Uhhh … yeahhh.

Mike: Spoken like a true Vikings fan – reluctantly.

Isabel: I like the Packers, too.

Mike: You look better in purple.

Do you like other sports?

Not golf!

My husband, on our 25th wedding anniversary, he gave me a golf set, real nice one, it had daisies on it and everything, real fancy. It was for a girl.

Well, it was too nice to put in the store room downstairs, so I kept it in the laundry room in my den. Every time I had company, I’d drag it out and show it to them and put it back. I never did play golf.

He loved golf, and he thought that would get me interested in it. It didn’t work. So finally, I sold it.

Did you ever imagine you’d make it to 100 years old?

No. I never dreamed that I’d live to be 100.

Now that I’ve got to be 100 and I’m feeling good, maybe I’ll make it to 101.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590

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