Ed Schaffer celebrated his grandmother Bessie Hendricks’ 115th birthday in November with everyone enjoying her birthday cake. While modern medicine suggests that too much sugar can cause health problems, Schaffer recalled how her grandmother’s philosophy on living a long life.
“She always said to stay away from doctors, (work hard) and eat a lot of sweets,” he said.
So he went to one of the custodians at the Hendricks long-term care facility in Lake City and asked if his grandmother could have a piece. He said it was bright when it arrived, mixed with some ice cream, her favorite sweet treat.
“When my mom ate and ate this bowl full of cake and ice cream, my grandma started hitting it, like ‘I want more! I want more! I want more!'” he said. “It just makes me laugh because it tells me that my grandmother was still there somewhere.”
When Hendricks died on January 3, he was believed to be the oldest person in America and the fourth-oldest person in the world. At her funeral on Saturday, the remaining five generations of her family — from Hendricks’ three surviving children, now in their 90s, to her great-grandchildren who still milk their cheeks — attended the small shrine in Lake City. filled up decorated with glittering sparkles and flower petals.
The greatness of the Hendricks family and the great influence of their hero on them became a place of remembrance.
“For many she was a superman, but for her family she was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and even great-grandmother. Think of the picture of six generations. That,” Schaffer said during his eulogy. “That’s the ordinary life of a woman I had the privilege of calling grandma.”
Hard work, endurance, family love and above all strength and optimism
Since Hendricks’ death, researchers have speculated about the secret to the Calhoun County native’s longevity, from her built resilience in Iowa’s harsh winters to her connection to the land, which works on the farm. Schaffer said many of these explanations are reasonable, but the most powerful secret lies in her outlook on life, which is summed up in a simple but impressive sentence: “So by the grace of God, go.”
Schaffer said her philosophy of staying positive and strong “in [my] spirit” since childhood.
“No matter what the situation, she would talk about how lucky she was to have a big garden, or how lucky she was to eat fried chicken. She really opened it up as a part of my soul.”
Schaffer remembers her grandmother as a resilient woman who loved her family, cooked “dirty fried chicken,” enjoyed making crafts for others and had a sweet tooth that was only served with a scoop of ice cream, a slice of cake or a nice scoop of ice cream. it was enough piece of pie
Memoirs written for a girl tell her story
At her funeral, the pastor read aloud from Hendricks’ memoirs, which she dictated to her late daughter Shirley in the 1990s. In them, she painted a picture of her life, from accidentally lighting a fire with kerosene lamps in the upstairs room of her childhood home to meeting the love of her life, husband-Paul, at a dance in Lohrville when she was a young school teacher. was
He asked her to marry him only a month later, but she had to wait because, according to her memoirs, “In those days, married women did not come to teach in country schools.”
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In 1930, they married and eventually moved to Rands, where, according to her memoirs, they rented a house for $45 a month, about the same as her husband’s salary. Three years later, the Hendrickses moved to a nearly 700-acre farm where they raised their five children. Schaffer said his grandmother’s dedication to farming was not just a means of making a living, but a true expression of her love for nature.
“She really lived her love of the land and her pride in farming. She always had a big garden, and there was never a weed in it,” he said.
Each year, Hendricks canned up to 800 liters of vegetables and fruit from her garden and raised around 500 chickens, which she admitted in her memoirs were “very few”. She passed this love on to the generations.
“I have a passion for gardening,” Schaffer said in his tribute, “and I know exactly where it came from.”
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In addition to spending time in nature, Hendricks loved to sing, her grandson said. At the funeral that Saturday, those in attendance were treated to some of Hendricks’ most beloved songs and tunes, including her favorite, the Jimmie Davis classic “You Are My Sunshine.”
“That woman sure loved to sing and sing and sing, even if you didn’t ask her,” Schaffer said Saturday.
While Hendricks may no longer be physically with the family, Schaffer said her legacy lives on in the generations who kept her together and to whom she passed on her values. He said he hopes his grandmother is remembered not only for her incredible age, but also for the impact she had on so many people around her.
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“What I want my grandmother to be remembered for is as a strong woman who was an example of hard work, honesty and living life as a gift.”
Hendricks is survived by her children Joan Schaffer, Glenda Hendricks and Leon Hendricks, 14 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren.
Francesca Block is a news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter@francescablock3.