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Chippewa Manor celebrates nearly 5,000 years of memory

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Earl Carlson took the microphone with unshaking hands and animatedly read a joke about two lawyers, a judge and a couple getting a divorce to everyone gathered at the Chippewa Manor's over-90 club celebration.

The punch line drew laughs from all around and he handed the microphone back to Cindy Tewalt, activities director for the Chippewa Manor, who began looking for a volunteer to enlighten the group with their secrets of a long life.

She didn't have to look far. The 95-year-old Carlson, who is originally from Amery, swiftly raised his hand in the air with a demonstration that belied his age.

"You know, if you eat carrots for 100 years you'll have a long life," Carlson said, laughing. "Of course you could eat anything for that long."

When the chuckles that spread across the room dissipated, he continued. "But the best thing I know is to laugh. If you laugh, you'll not only live a long life but you'll be happy, too."

Laughter certainly wasn't in short supply Wednesday afternoon as the several dozen members of the over-90 club applauded each other's longevity.

The club, like its members, isn't exactly new. The Chippewa Manor has been celebrating its oldest residents for more than 30 years.

"And believe it or not, our over-90 club is growing," Tewalt said.

This year the club consists of 50 people, with four members who are over 100 years old.

"These folks represent 4,742 years of living," Tewalt said as the room once again broke out in applause.

Each person who was at least 90 was presented with a membership card to the club, as their names, ages and birthdays were read out loud, ending with the oldest.

At 90, Lois Weatherbie was one of the youngest in the group. She put her hands in the air and grinned from ear to ear as her name was called out.

"This just means I'm reaching the upper echelons," she said.

According to Weatherbie, staying young takes a lot of exercise. She produced a pedometer from her waist and explained that she usually shoots for between 5,000 and 7,000 steps a day.

"Right now I'm only at 4,500," she laughed. But she had plenty of time. It was barely 2 p.m.

And she's still trying to keep up with all the changes that have happened during her life.

"Everything is different," she said. "When I mastered the remote control for the TV I though I was doing good."

A native of Rhode Island, Weatherbie lived in Montreal for a while and spent 42 years in Florida before making the trek to the Chippewa Valley to be near family.

She's still getting around, too. Last November she went to Las Vegas.

"And I just missed seeing Kiss," she joked, referencing the rock 'n roll group that was popular in the 1970s.

A few tables away Carlson was chatting with a couple other members of the over-90 club. He said it feels pretty good to be 95.

"It isn't really different from being 60," Carlson said, "except for a few more aches and pains. And everything takes a little longer."

The Lutheran minister spent most of his career in Pennsylvania and Illinois before moving to the Chippewa Manor in 2012.

Looking quite a bit younger than he is, Carlson has been using a walker for the last 15 years.

"The doctors say I have a weak back," he said, explaining the condition stems from his battle with polio when he was only three years old -- in 1922.

And while many young people may see middle age as "over the hill," Carlson says it doesn't look that way from where he's sitting.

"I haven't even reached the top yet," he said. "I'm enjoying life too much."

Rose Anderson, who turned 100 only a few days ago, is one of the oldest members of the club. Born on a farm between Boyd and Cadott in 1915, she said she has seen too much change to keep track of it all.

Yet Anderson remembers the first time she saw an automobile drive down the road in front of the farm where she grew up. The road was Highway 29, but back then it wasn't the four-lane interstate drivers are familiar with now. Then it was little more than a dirt road.

These days, except for walking in the hallway outside her room Anderson doesn't get much.

"That's about the only activity I get these days," she said. "I have very little sight."

But that doesn't get her down.

"I have a very good mind," Anderson said, smiling.

After all of the names had been read, the whole group sang happy birthday, using the phrase "over 90s" in place of a person's name.

"I'm not going to expect you to remember the whole list," Tewalt said.

Margie Metzenbauer, though not yet a member of the over-90 club, even produced a harmonica and played along as the group sang.

As the song ended and the voices returned to other conversations, Carlson chimed in one more line:

"And many more."

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