MARCO ISLAND — If 26 is the new 18 and 60 is the new 30, what is 90? Marco abounds with active, witty nonagenarians who continue to serve God and their community with verve and zest. Their friends and admirers in their 50s and 60s say, “I want to be just like them when I grow up.”
Among this special group is San Marco Catholic Church member Rita Broderick, who heads her church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay volunteer organization that seeks out and provides person-to-person aid to the poor and needy. She also serves as a minister of communion, distributing the bread and wine during Mass; and a lead minister who helps prepare for Mass by setting up the altar.
At 93, Broderick was the youngest interviewed. The humble, sweet, petite woman grew up in St. Louis and married her Marine sweetheart in California before he left to serve in the Pacific. After the war they returned to St. Louis and later moved to Long Island where he was in the Manhattan publishing industry.
While in St. Louis she taught elementary school and physical education but had to quit because married women weren’t allowed to teach. Along with raising her family she continued to substitute teach and teach part time. She kept herself physically active playing tennis for 60 years and then golf for another 10.
When she retired to Marco she joined the Urgent Care Auxiliary and still serves on its board of directors, as she chairs the scholarship committee.
“I feel blessed that I am able to keep going,” said Broderick in a telephone interview. She is thankful for her family, neighbors and friends and for being able to live here and help others. “My mother always helped people; it’s carrying on the family tradition. It’s the way we were brought up.
“I thank God every morning that I have another day,” she said.“I don’t think I could keep going without my faith. There must be some reason why I’m still here.”
She sees many opportunities to do things and help others and urges others to get involved.
For her, the best way to start the day is with morning Mass.“I feel sorry for people who don’t have faith; it has played a big part in my life.”
God and a good sense of humor help her get through the day.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church member Betty Freeman looks forward to her 96th birthday in April and can be seen driving around Marco in her red convertible. She is the only one of four who was born in Florida as her parents were winter residents. They took her home to Ohio in a box in their car’s backseat camping along the way.
She married and raised her family in Wisconsin, where she taught emotionally handicapped children. She later moved to Miami where she continued to teach, and later her and her husband retired to Marco in 1984. Her husband died in 1995 of Alzheimer’s and she continues to live in her same home. She currently helps with the Alzheimer’s Support Network’s monthly mailings. She also volunteers at the library, enjoys AAUW’s Great Book and Great Decisions discussions, attends Bible studies and is Marco Curves’ oldest member.
Along the way she has also folded thousands of T-shirts at her church’s annual flea market. She became the most animated, however, when we discussed her current work with kindergarteners at Tommie Barfield Elementary where she has volunteered for more than 10 years giving talks on art.
“If you are working with kids its amazing,” she said via telephone.“We are so blessed to have that facility (the elementary school).”
She has been a member of her church’s prayer group for 15 years. Prayer is essential for getting her through the day. “It’s not just about asking but thanking,” she said. She also believes in intercessory prayer to help others find God’s gifts.
She feels that God has always been an active part of her life and that some people go through a phase where God doesn’t live here any more. “Every time I stumble and just about fall and catch myself I say ‘thank you God’ and I feel as if his hand is right under my elbow.”
Her advice to others: “Keep the engine running as long as you can, being active, enjoying the company of others, being a part of interesting and worthwhile groups.”
Ninety-four-year-old Doretta Alger, originally from North Dakota who majored in music in college, taught one year and then got married. Her husband also served in World War II. After the war, they moved to Minneapolis where she was a substitute teacher and taught piano. She is a dedicated Marco Lutheran Church choir member and plays an occasional piano organ duet with church organist, Ray Jones.
When she and her husband first moved to Marco in the 1980s they felt empty. But that vanished once they found and joined the church. She was on the committee that hired MLC’s current Music Director, Craig Greusel.
Prayer is an essential part of her life, as well; it gets her going.“The older I get, the greater part is my prayer time,” she said via telephone. Her day isn’t right unless she has her morning devotions. “I notice the difference when I skip it and can’t wait to get back,” she said.
She feels blessed and sees how God helped her along the way: through the wartime tribulations, moving for her husband’s career, his struggle with Guillain-Barré syndrome and later his succumbing to cancer. “I have a lot of faith and I trust Him; He brought me through.”
Although she now lives in Lely Palms she feels blessed that she can still remain active in her church. She enjoys meeting new people at Lely Palms and especially enjoys the on-site bible study.
She walks, exercises, eats balanced meals and urges others to move around. She refers to herself as a dedicated grandma and one of her highlights last year was reading at a granddaughter’s wedding in Yosemite National Park.
The goal-orientated and insightful Leone Vander-Woude attends Marco Presbyterian Church. Born in 1919 on a rural Iowa farm, she trained as a nurse and traveled the country before marrying her sweetheart in Las Vegas, just before his World War II deployment. After the war the couple returned to Iowa where they raised a family and she was active in Scouts, church and Sunday school. In between she would work as a nurse. She and her husband later opened a nursing home where she was the director of nursing.
A proponent of healthy eating, she had always had large vegetable and flower gardens and still manages to grow a few flowers at her Marco condominium. She is also active on Facebook and Twitter, an avid reader and keeps sharp doing crossword puzzles. Her sewing machine sits next to her computer in her bedroom. She enjoys creative handwork. She used to make all her family’s clothes including little girl dresses out of World War II parachute silk and is currently making pillowcase dresses and receiving blankets destined for Africa. She also created costumes for the church’s Madrigal Dinner as well as little pocket cross prayer reminders for the church’s women’s ministry and a mission in Haiti.
“I want my life to be useful,” she said in her Marco condo. She also shared the words of a hymn that has a special meaning for her: “Many things about tomorrow I don’t understand. But I know who holds tomorrow. And who holds my hand.”
Her day is not complete without her daily evening devotionals, focusing on the One who holds her hand.