At age 110, Wadena resident joins exclusive ‘supercentenarian’ club

By Dee Goerge

Was it living well, attitude, good genes or something else that has given Marie (Neuerburg) Willan 110 years of life?

No one really knows why Willan, born on April 29, 1906, has lived long enough to become a “supercentenarian” — an elite group of people 110 and older that currently has about 50 validated members in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

People in Wadena thought it was a pretty big deal when Willan celebrated her 100th birthday in 2006 with children from St. Ann School, where she had attended school 90 years before. Then, a year later, at 101, she inspired people about the importance of education when she joined the Wadena-Deer Creek graduation class to accept an honorary high school degree.

Willan didn’t speculate about her life’s longevity at Fair Oaks Lodge Nursing Home in Wadena, which hosted a celebration for her on her 110th birthday after she attended Mass in the facility’s chapel.

She was silent with her eyes shut, due to macular degeneration that has affected her sight and made her eyes sensitive to light. She was aware, however, of the love around her in the gathering of about 50 friends and family members, whose lives she has touched over the years.

About 50 family members and friends helped Marie Willan celebrate her birthday April 29 at Fair Oaks Lodge Nursing Home in Wadena. Photo courtesy of Fair Oaks Lodge
About 50 family members and friends helped Marie Willan celebrate her birthday April 29 at Fair Oaks Lodge Nursing Home in Wadena. Photo courtesy of Fair Oaks Lodge

“She doesn’t like the fussing over her,” admitted Herb Neuerburg, 92, Willan’s only living sibling. On the previous day, she spent time with a camera crew from an area television station for a news story. The best part of that was having her hair styled and fingernails manicured and polished.

As a young girl, Willan wanted to be a beautician, but when she graduated from eighth grade at St. Ann School in 1920, she was needed on the family’s Wadena farm, where she helped to care for her eight younger siblings.

She married Harry Andrie in 1927, and the couple had one son, Roy (now 85). Willan was involved with clubs with other farm women who helped each other garden, can and sew. Her skills as a seamstress made her a good part-time employee for her brother Herb’s Singer Sewing Shop business. After retiring, Willan spent time doing one of her favorite things — fishing.

“Fish was her favorite food, too,” Neuerburg noted, and she fished with another friend into her 80s. He also recalled how she helped him rake and clear brush on his property when she was an octogenarian.

Harry died and was buried on the couple’s 51st anniversary, and several years later she married Lloyd Willan. The Willans enjoyed 13 years of dancing and fishing together before Lloyd died in 1997, Neuerburg said.

Willan has been on her own since, said her niece Diane Anderson, Herb Neuerburg’s daughter. Until three years ago, Willan lived in an apartment at Humphrey Manor in Wadena. Two of her sisters lived on another floor, but Willan “was just a little more independent.”

“She was always kind of a quiet lady and nonjudgmental,” Anderson says. “She never shared anything negative about anyone.”

Willan kept up with political and current events and read until macular degeneration affected her eyesight about 10 years ago. Then she listened to audio books, and Anderson read to her. Willan loved going to church dinners, having special meals with friends and being able to remain in her apartment with the help of aides who became friends, Anderson said.

“She’s a woman of few words these days, but she still likes to hold hands,” Anderson added. “What strikes me about her is how humble she is and accepting of things. She always has a positive attitude: ‘It’s God’s plan and I’m going with it — whatever God has planned for me.’ And, she had a favorite saying: ‘Don’t take life so seriously that you don’t take time to laugh.’”

Willan’s Catholic faith has always been apparent. She participated in Bible studies, supported fundraisers at St. Ann Church in Wadena and took her place in the front pew for Mass every weekend. Now, she attends Mass on Fridays at Fair Oaks Lodge, said Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of St. Ann as well as St. John the Baptist Parish in Bluffton.

After a weekend of celebrating her birthday, he noted there is one more important anniversary.

“May 6 was when she was baptized, so we want to do something special for that,” Father Kuhn said.

Author: The Visitor

The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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