Advice for living a century; celebrate with Marge Swenson
It’s not that unusual to see an Oak Ridger live to be 100 years old (which more or less disproves glow in the dark with the radiation theory). What’s super amazing about an Oak Ridger who’s about to do this — Tuesday, March 8 — is that she continues to live in her modified “B” house, walks around the neighborhood almost every day (not requiring only a walker for a few years), cooks her own meals and converses with family and friends with the wit and intelligence of a 20-year-old.
Meet Marjorie “Marge” Swenson. Her quick wit, quick smile, and cheerful demeanor are the envy of almost everyone who knows her. This article is meant to celebrate Marge’s century on this planet and share insights into her own longevity. Mostly, she says, that’s how she grew up.
Born in Pipestone, Minnesota in 1922 to Eugene and Alice Clark, Marge grew up on a farm. She learned early on the value of families spending quality time with each other while working hard to get through tough times. She had an older brother, Larry, who was born with medical issues, so she grew up helping take care of him as one of her main duties. Later she cared for her husband’s mother and aunt and her own children. She then helped neighbors in need, worked for home health (mostly with elderly people), and then again for her brother later in life. Finally, Marge cared intensely for her husband towards the end of his life. She said she believes connecting with people and treating them well is vital to a person’s well-being. Keeping children in your life also helps you stay young.
Tip: Caring is not just a physical action; make it a part of who you are.
Marge met her future husband Paul as a lab partner in a biology/anatomy class at Hamline University in St. Paul. He joined the National Guard and moved to train. Letter writing has become a way of life. They married in St. Paul in 1942, after only a few actual dates. Soon after, Paul was ordered to serve his country in the United States Army during World War II. Marge was later informed by the War Department, by letter, that Paul had been seriously injured. His recovery and rehabilitation required several months of hospitalization and Marge was unable to visit him during this time. Not only could she not afford to travel, but she was also doing her part in the war effort by working in a Honeywell factory welding parts, then moving to care for her mother in California. Many other letters were exchanged. After Paul finally got home, he gave his meat ration book to Marge and her mother – telling them that he had been given penicillin and steak every day in the hospital and that it was about time they had the steak!
Tip: Learn to make do with what you have and enjoy it. Life goes on !
Some of Marge’s happiest times have been outdoors in nature, starting with her brother Larry when they were little. She had to be active when she was young, because she lived on a farm after all, and she really had to walk a mile and a half to her one-room school, rounding up her classmates along the way.
She enjoyed many scenic trips with Paul in their 1931 Ford which they bought for $100 cash. With Paul’s graduate studies continuing at Stanford University, that meant many fun trips to the coast and other parks. Marge graduated in 1948 from San Jose State, traveling 30 miles by bus each way. Stanford was too expensive, while San Jose State tuition was only $7 a quarter. In 1950, the couple crossed the country again when Paul accepted a professorship at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They bought their first home there for $9,000 and their two daughters were born: Marie in 1955 and Carol in 1958. Life was happy, but change was yet to come.
Paul has completed his doctorate. at UMass while teaching and also did research during sabbaticals at Brookhaven National Laboratory and then at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1958. Marge and her family came with him to Oak Ridge and they rented an apartment E -2, loving their time here – so much so that they chose to return for good in 1966.
Paul got a full position at ORNL and the family moved to Oak Ridge to a modified “B” house, where Marge has lived ever since. Along with walks in the Greenbelt, camping has become an even more frequent and favorite pastime for Marge and her family. She loves to soak up the sun (and stars) and always appreciates the beauty of the natural world around her. Today, she goes out for sheer fun (and exercise). She regularly admires the trees and flowers that people plant in all seasons. She is happy that no matter which direction she walks, there is always a garden to welcome her at the top of a hill.
Tip: Enjoy the outdoors and appreciate nature!
Leading a healthy life was also a lifelong endeavor that began in his youth. Eating healthy may have been easier on a farm than elsewhere, but Marge has enjoyed preparing healthy foods for her family and others in many situations over the years. She fed Paul and his fellow graduates – more than 20 – in California during summer learning adventures and, along with other “college” wives, hosted progressive dinner parties which she says were a lot of fun. . Today, her eyes light up when offered fruits and vegetables from our own farmers markets (especially fresh carrots), and she is so grateful to the friends, family and neighbors who bring her soups, breads and other treats to enjoy.
Tip: Eat healthy and appreciate any help with a smile! Extra tip: Feed people and make them happy!
Marge grew up reading anything and everything she could find. She read the paper from an early age and still gets newspapers from Oak Ridge and Knoxville delivered. She always thought it was important to be informed. The more aware you are of this, the better able you are to help or speak up, if and when you need it.
One of the things Marge says she’s most proud of is a people’s history, of course. Shortly after arriving in Oak Ridge, Marge became involved with the group called CORE – Congress of Racial Equality – which met in the community of Scarboro. She participated in protests (with her children in tow) to stave off a Ku Klux Klan rally at a local laundromat that refused to serve black people and later changed their policy. She then agreed to help again with a similar disparity issue related to housing equity. Thanks to her willingness to make calls and testify to her findings, people trying to find apartments and housing in Oak Ridge have faced less discriminatory practices. Well done Marge!
Tip: We are just people. Be kind and considerate to everyone!
Throughout her life, Marge has been a volunteer, giving of herself to others. This was especially true at his church, the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church (ORUUC). She has served as a Sunday school teacher, board member, treasurer, hostess, and care committee member at large.
Celebrate with her
She is so loved by her friends at ORUUC that they hold several special celebrations to honor her. On Saturday, March 12, an outdoor celebration is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Stop by, see her smile, hear her laugh, meet her family and oh, if she could just hug you, she sure would.
Asked for one last piece of advice she would like to pass on in this article, she wrote the following:
- For work/career: Do your best. Be careful and be trustworthy; and, know that not everything can be made perfect, but can be improved.
- For attitudes and beliefs, she sees these as the most important: Change is a necessary part of life. To be aware. Make improvements when possible. All experiences are valuable, whether good or bad. Be a friend. Understanding others is valuable. Cooperation is a necessity, as is a positive attitude and approach; Focus on others. Find a way to be
- help them if needed. Enjoy the natural world. Nature and people are important for happiness, and be grateful.
And I’m grateful. For having Marge in my life as an inspiration, neighbor and friend.