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100 years young: Rochester residents reach the century mark

In hindsight, none of them expected to make it so far. And yet, they all have lived long, full lives. They all started out in different spots before landing in Rochester.

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Gricelda B. Isla Blanck, Bob Levin and Dale Rousey. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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Robert Levin just had a birthday. It was a pretty big birthday, in fact. On Jan. 6, he turned 100.

Levin is one of several residents at the Homestead of Rochester sporting triple digits. In hindsight, none of them expected to make it so far. And yet, they all have lived long, full lives. They all started out in different spots before landing in Rochester.

Levin was born in Parsons, Kansas, and he doesn’t feel a day over 99.

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“I was surprised that I have lived that long, but I don’t feel any different than 99. You just enjoy what you’re doing and don’t worry about anything else,” Levin said. “I never gave reaching 100 a thought as I was living my life. When you’re young, very old is like 70 or 80. I never knew anyone who lived to be 100.”

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Bob Levin celebrated is 100th birthday on Jan. 6. Levin is pictured Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, at The Homestead at Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Like Levin, Dale Rousey recently turned 100, celebrating his birthday just before Christmas. He was born in Jacksonville, Ill. Gricelda Blanck is even older. Born in 1919, she will turn 102 in June.

Rousey’s wife, Mary, passed away in June at 99 1/2. He met her through her brother. They went to a dance together and kept the magic going for more than half a century afterward. They even lived together at Homestead until she died. Although she had to live in a different part of the facility for the last five years, he was able to visit her every day.

“I married an older woman; she’s two weeks older than I am,” Rousey said with a laugh.

Blanck is from Peru. When she came to the United States, she worked at a hospital in Idaho. She then rode the milk train to take a job at the Mayo Clinic, where she eventually retired from her career as a nurse.

“I cannot believe what I have done for myself by coming to this country and making a life here,” Blanck said.

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Dale Rousey celebrated his 100th birthday last December. Rousey is pictured Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, at The Homestead at Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The world and societal changes centenarians have witnessed is monumental. Someone born in 1921 or before has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, the moon landing, and, most recently, a worldwide pandemic.

The amount of change that has happened in fields like technology and medicine are also staggering.

"I would have never dreamed that we are able to do the things that we do now," Levin said.

Blanck was born just a year after the start of another major health crisis, the Spanish Flu of 1918. Navigating the pandemic has been difficult, becoming lonely at times because of the restrictions on having visitors.

“I am praying all the time for the whole country,” Blanck said.

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Gricelda B. Isla Blanck celebrated her 101st birthday last June. Isla Blanck is pictured Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, at The Homestead at Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

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Levin did more than just witness history. He took part in a major project during the World War II. He worked on the Manhattan Project, helping to create the atomic bomb.

So what is their secret to a century or more of life? Rousey credits the fact that he never smoked. Blanck said it's been a combination of healthy foods, exercise and going to church.

Levin, officially the youngest of the three, credits the value of having strong relationships.

"I was lucky to have such a loving companion in my wife Vicky for 73 years," Levin said. "I had many good friends through the years. My daughter Carol has been there for me and for Vicky."

Related Topics: ROCHESTER
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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