Meet my Role Model for Healthy Aging

At The Five Journeys, we strive toward a life of self-fulfillment. To me, those journeys include financial independence, a healthy lifestyle, happiness, inner peace, and belonging to community. And it’s a pretty tough order to get all aspects working together at the same time. Today we’re going to take a bit of a detour as I’m going to introduce my role model for healthy aging: my mom. You see, I think she’s got this whole life journey thing down. In honor of her 86th birthday, I’m sharing my interview with her. I hope you enjoy it!

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live? What do you like to do?

I am 86 years of age and still living in the same old country farm house in central Wisconsin where my husband and I began our married life. There we raised five children. I have nine great grandchildren.

I keep very active through my membership at the local swim center, where I attend most of their exercise classes.  I also enjoy being the Organist at our little country church, plus playing my piano.  Another thing I truly enjoy is writing monthly letters to friends who have lost their mates; it’s my way of cheering them up.  I recently discovered that I have a talent for writing short stories – three of my stories have been published in Guideposts magazine.  Our Wisconsin magazine also chose a “Church Chuckle” piece that I wrote and rewarded me with a homemade pecan pie made by an Amish bakery.

You grew up fearing the water. And yet you learned how to swim at age 70. What made you decide to do such a daring thing?

I have a close friend who also wanted to learn and it helped that we were both petrified of water.  What really drove me to buckle down with the lessons was a statement that was made to me by a gal who used to be a swimming instructor.  She claimed that it was impossible for someone to learn how to swim once they reach the age of 70. That really aggravated me, as I was close to that age. So I made a bet with her and proved her wrong.  The bet was one homemade muffin, not much, but at the time, the prize didn’t matter.

Shirley completing a lap at the local swim center

One of the challenges we face as we age is that we lose loved ones. You lost your husband five years ago. What advice do you have for others on how to manage difficult times?

I was fortunate to have a close neighbor who lost her husband four months prior to Eugene’s death, and she helped me take care of the problems that he used to handle, like getting the oil changed in the car and showing me how to balance the checking account. Another wise thing is to never turn down invitations, as people may not ask again.

After the loss of my husband, I soon found out that it was very important to have a good social network.  So on my own, I took over the business part of an historic cemetery which was close to our house and badly in need of help.  My husband and neighbor, who are both deceased, were on the board and since the President had health problems, I got involved.  When we started our efforts the cemetery bank account was empty. So I decided to raise money by baking, decorating, and selling my tiny heart cakes. I ended up  selling 150 cakes, which brought in $900! That kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to think about anything else.

There still are a few things that will bring sadness to my heart, and that is when our special song, Vince Gill’s Just Look at Us, is being played on the radio. That will bring tears to my eyes.  I treasure those memories.

How do you stay so healthy?

I lived a healthy lifestyle most of my married life, and since the loss of my husband, my freezer is stocked with homemade soups. And I eat a lot of salads, using either kale or spinach in place of lettuce.  I seldom buy packaged foods.  I still use my old Jane Fonda exercise record that I purchased decades ago.  Every morning I wake up with the alarm at 6:30, which gives me plenty of time to do my bed exercises before getting up.  I then grab some fruit and head out the door for my drive to the Marathon Swim Center, where I take water exercise classes for 45 minutes, four days weekly.  After that, I have so much ambition for the remainder of the day.

Once a year, I have a complete physical with my family doctor.  One time after finishing my check-up, she sat down in her chair with a dumbfounded look on her face.  I said “what’s the matter, can’t you find anything wrong with me” and she just laughed.  She is not a pill pusher, but strongly recommended that I take a statin drug to prevent strokes. So I finally agreed to take one tablet every other day and that is working out great.  That is the only medication I take.

What are the things you do that keep you feeling young? What do you do for fun?

Playing with my two young grandchildren keeps me active, as I do a lot of bending. Age means nothing to me, so why even think about it? I have a lot of fun things that I do.  I go on many one-day bus trips and just recently enjoyed a river cruise with a new friend.  I also like to play bingo and have been on a winning streak. And I enjoy going out for breakfast with the water exercise gals.

Many of our readers are told that they need to amass at least $1,000,000 to live a happy life into their older years. Yet you live off of a relatively small amount of money. Can you tell us a little bit about your spending and how you feel about money?

As a couple, we saved much of our earnings by investing a great deal of it with our Financial Advisor. But now that I am on my own, it would be very difficult for me to survive if the government dropped our Social Security benefits. My living expenses are very low as I pay a modest monthly rent to my son, who owns the house and the farm. I also make a fair amount of money from my Organist job and from the stories that I publish.  The fact is that I can survive nicely on what I earn and still enjoy extra privileges.  So money isn’t a big topic for me.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about healthy aging?

Don’t think about your age, then you will really feel old.  Worrying can cause health problems, so why would you want to do that?  Don’t turn down new undertakings as one never knows where it will lead you.  In my 80s, I have done things I never thought I could do, like becoming the treasurer of the local cemetery board and writing short stories. My advice is:  Never say never, as you could be passing up wonderful opportunities.

About the Author Brenda

Dr. Brenda is a financial coach, educator, researcher, and sociologist. In addition to blogging at The Five Journeys, she is the founder of the Gutsy Women Club. Her passion is guiding people on their journey to financial freedom through coaching at DrBrendaMoneyCoach and online courses at

  • Moneylogue says:

    Truly amazing! Being able to learn how to swim at age 70 is really inspiring. Not to worry or reduce your stress was the same advice given to me by my 89-year-old friend and a golfing buddy. He plays 18 hole golf every other day and he’s 89 years old. I remember when he was 83 years old. He said all he asked was to be able to play golf by age 85.

    • Brenda says:

      Sometimes we just need to keep things simple. We let life get so complicated, but it’s really not. We can learn a lot from some of our older folk.

  • Debbie Mills says:

    Loved this! Thanks so much for going after this interview with Mrs. Shirley! Inspiring and helpful.

  • Geri Bates says:

    Shirley is such a cool lady. We so enjoyed our trip to Florida with Eugene and Shirley a number of years ago. When she saw I had a cell phone she asked about it and was anxious to try one. She has often thanked me for getting her to try a cell phone. We had a lot in common, farming and being just ordinary people. We do not need anything fancy and are thankful for all we have; health, friends and being able to do things we wish to do. Shirley is remarkable. It is fun keeping in touch with her. She is definitely aging well and with much contentment . You are blessed to have her as a mother.

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