Nine Over 90 and More: Sandpoint Calendar Honors Elders

By JACK McNEAL

It’s doubtful if any of these senior citizens dreamed of being featured on a calendar, but that’s precisely what happened at the beginning of this year. To make it even more remarkable, the 2018 calendar photos showed local people 90 or older, both women and men, and thus the title “Nine over Ninety and More!”

This project was the vision of Sandpoint Area Seniors, Inc., or SASi. Many of the activities this group provides are similar to senior citizen centers throughout Idaho, but the idea of creating a calendar featuring members 90 years old and older was unique.

“I wanted to highlight elders and honor them. They inspire me all the time, and I wanted to showcase them,” said Ellen Weissman, SASi Executive Director. “It really surprised me when I started working here that we had so many 90 or older. We had to do a calendar featuring one each month. They’ve told me they appreciate the attention and are enjoying it.”

The calendars cost $15, with the money raised used for the vital programs SASi provides, plus administrative costs.

Senior Center provides lunch four days a week, and I had the pleasure of dining with them while preparing this story. Right away one feels the friendly attitude throughout the room. The meal itself was filling and very good, but it was the conversations, laughter, and opportunity to talk with some of these folks that remain in my thoughts.

The average age for these calendar members is about 94, but I certainly would not have guessed it; 70s and 80s, perhaps, but not over 90. I asked Weissman how  she chose these 12 individuals for the project.

“Mostly just from knowing them. I noticed these folks are strong and healthy and keep going. In some cases others were suggested. When I was told Merrill was over 90, I didn’t believe it. No way is he over 90. Maria is just amazing. I wouldn’t have pegged her over 75. They’re all very inspirational,” said Weissman. “I wanted to pass that feeling on to others. You hear ‘90’ and think ‘old and maybe in a hospital.’ You don’t think ‘out and about and living fully’ like these guys are.”

They all have activities to keep them busy in addition to frequent get-togethers at the Sandpoint Senior Center. Loren Vanek, at 92, not only plays pinochle a couple days a week but also bikes and loves to dance.

For others it may be getting together frequently with friends for games of pinochle, bridge, scrabble, or bingo.

Merrill Longpre is now 93 but could pass for 70 and is one of several people who meet monthly for rousing games of Wii Bowling, or on-screen virtual bowling. Merrill moved here from Colorado in 2013 and calls himself “just a plain ordinary guy.” He has always enjoyed fishing and hunting. Perhaps that youthful look is a result of his outdoor lifestyle.

The majority of the calendar models moved to Idaho during their “senior years,” but Darrell Ewing, also remarkably young appearing, is an exception. His great-grandfather, Richard Fry, built the first trading post and ferry in Bonners Ferry. Darrell spent his early years with what he refers to as the “Fry Clan,” and exploring the mountains and waterways around Bonners Ferry. He’s been active in the senior center for the last 25 years.

It was my pleasure to be seated next to “93 years young and quick witted” Janet Vetter. She moved here 30 years ago from California to be closer to her kids. In addition to frequent pinochle games, she’s also one of the first Red Hat members in Sandpoint and remains active in the Red Hat Rascals.

L.R. Hinrich has the nickname of “Vegas.” The name dates back to the 1940s when he moved north from Las Vegas driving a 1932 Ford hot rod. His car had the words “Las Vegas Wildcats” on it.

“People had trouble pronouncing my name so pretty soon I was just “Vegas.” He was a merchant marine during the Korean War. He’s well liked, often the center of activities. His photo graces the calendar cover as well as the photo for August.

“The whole purpose of the calendar is to inspire others to live healthy and live long,” said Weissman. “Merrill used to hike a lot and was outdoors a lot. I see that as a thread with several of them. Just staying active and moving, not necessarily going to the gym, but just being active. It’s all inspiring to me and, hopefully, other people.”

With such a great response for the 2018 calendar, Weissman is excited to announce the forthcoming 2019 SASi calendar.

“We have found more folks over 90 in the area and are hoping to pair them up with police and firefighters in addition to our local EMTs.”

For more information, stop by the Sandpoint Senior Center, 820 Main Street, Sandpoint, ID. Visit the website at sandpointareaseniors.org or call 208-263-6860. Please contact the center if you know anyone in Bonner County over 90 who has a story to tell. ISI

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