Doing fine at 109
Oakes, N.D. Fritz Lahman doesn't know how his older sister lived to be 109. Maybe she stayed healthy with her cold-curing remedy of dipping a scarf in kerosene and tying it around her neck. Or perhaps she stayed sharp by working on 1,000-piece pu...
Fritz Lahman doesn't know how his older sister lived to be 109.
Maybe she stayed healthy with her cold-curing remedy of dipping a scarf in kerosene and tying it around her neck.
Or perhaps she stayed sharp by working on 1,000-piece puzzles into her late 90s.
Whatever Lillian Ratzlaff's secret is, it worked.
Today Ratzlaff, believed to be North Dakota's oldest resident, celebrates her 109th birthday.
On Friday, family members and staff and residents of the Oakes Good Samaritan Center threw Ratzlaff a party.
These days Ratzlaff isn't the "feisty old bird" she once was, and probably would have preferred to stay in bed rather than attend the festivities, her family said.
She has poor hearing and has a hard time communicating with people.
But on her good days, Ratzlaff has a clear mind and expresses her opinions, said Jerome Swanson, the nursing home's director.
Ratzlaff - known to her family as Grandma Lillie - was born in 1896 on a farm near Hecla, S.D., the fifth of 11 children.
Lahman, 96, her only living sibling, said Ratzlaff was mouthy, especially to their parents.
"She was always in trouble," Lahman said.
Kimberly Dillavou of Aberdeen, S.D., said her great-grandmother ruled the roost whenever she came to visit.
"We watched what grandma wanted to watch and did what grandma wanted to do," Dillavou said, adding her favorite was "The Lawrence Welk Show."
When Ratzlaff's son bought her a color television, she made him set it so it was black and white because that's what she was used to, Dillavou said.
For several years Ratzlaff operated cafes in Jamestown and Oakes. She had two children and was married three times.
Ratzlaff lived on her own in an apartment in Hecla for 20 years until she had a mild stroke at 103 and moved into the nursing home.
Until then, she played cards with friends, walked to the grocery store and was as feisty as ever, said great-granddaughter Kacy Lanphere-Walker of Aberdeen.
"She's a character," Lanphere-Walker said. "It's always an adventure with grandma. Never a dull moment."
Ratzlaff baked "the hardest bread in the world" because she hated using preservatives, which her great-granddaughters say was key to her good health.
Family members gathered Friday weren't sure how many descendents Grandma Lillie has. They believe the youngest is 7-week-old great-great-grandson Aidan.
Nursing home staff have tried to determine whether Ratzlaff is the state's oldest resident, but there is no agency that can confirm that.
She is the oldest resident who has ever lived in the Oakes Good Samaritan Center, Swanson said.
The oldest living American is Elizabeth Bolden of Memphis who turned 115 in August, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The oldest age any human has lived to that is fully authenticated is 122 years, 164 days, according to the Guinness Book. That was Jeanne-Louise Calment of France who died in 1997.
"We just can't believe she's going to be 109," Lanphere-Walker said. "I can't fathom that."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590