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A centenarian’s tips for longevity — fresh air and prayer

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When Susan Hartung went into labor with her seventh child, the doctor was across town delivering another child. So her husband, Joseph, delivered baby Elizabeth in their two-story, one-door home Oct. 5, 1917. One hundred years later, Elizabeth Zangel, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Reston, returned to Minnesota for a birthday celebration, stopping by that very house.

Though she’s only been 100 years old for a month, Elizabeth and her daughter, Judith Mandrgoc, are making the most of her impressive age, often with Elizabeth’s 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

During her trip to Minnesota, she and her two surviving younger sisters, Estella and Germaine, stopped by St. Andrew Church in Fairfax, Minn., and sat in the exact pew her father rented many years ago. She drank her first beer ever at Schell’s Brewery, one of the oldest in the country. During Octoberfest in her hometown, the Bohemian Society invited her to ride on their parade float, where she played the harmonica as they rode around town.

In early November, they’ll have birthday cake for her after Sunday Mass at St. John Neumann. Many parishioners and even Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge have written her congratulatory letters.

Judith hopes all the festivities they’ve been a part of leads others to celebrate the elderly, especially if they reach triple digits. “Someone among us is 100 years old and lived a prayerful life,” said Judith.

Minnesota, 1917

Elizabeth and her 10 siblings were raised on a farm where they grew “everything,” she said. After graduating high school, she worked on the family farm until she married in 1939. She met her husband, Clarence, at his aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary party. They were married in St. Andrew Church and honeymooned in St. Paul. Judith still has her mother’s wedding dress, purchased from a store called the Beehive, and one of the peach-colored bridesmaid dresses.

The newlyweds moved to nearby New Ulm, Minn., where Clarence worked at the flour mill. They raised four children: Clarence Jr., Judith, Jane and Joseph. The Zangels were a devout couple with a special devotion to Mary. On special occasions, Clarence would give his wife and the Blessed Mother a rose. After Clarence retired from the mill, the couple moved to a small town in Wisconsin, where Elizabeth became involved with a ministry for pregnant women in crisis. They took several mothers into their home. Elizabeth volunteered in the home where the babies were looked after until they were adopted. 

In 1989, the Zangels celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Fatima, a gift from their children. In 2001, Clarence died at home at age 88. Zangel continued to live alone until her late 90s, when she moved to Virginia with her daughter. Though not as healthy as she once was, Elizabeth takes no medication, said Judith.

Her advice for the younger generation is simple. “Live a plain life,” Elizabeth said in her Midwestern lilt. “I grew up on a farm, (had) a lot of fresh air, and a lot of work. Prayers are necessary.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017