MISSOULA — Jane Ellsperman celebrated her 100th birthday by wearing her favorite T-shirt, which read “Made in 1916 — All Original Parts.”
Ellsperman, who lives at the Missoula Manor retirement home, also spent the day taking visits from friends and family and reminiscing about her extremely full and lengthy life.
In fact, she has been defying the odds since the day she came into this world.
She was born prematurely in a small cabin in the mountains of Colorado, where her dad was a forest ranger.
“In 1916, of course, the cabin had no electricity or running water,” explained Ellsperman’s daughter-in-law, Rosalind Hudgens. “The midwife who helped with the birth did not expect Jane to survive. Jane was tiny, under 4 pounds. The midwife swaddled her, put her in a small box, and placed the box in the warming oven of the wood stove so she could attend to the needs of Jane's mother Laura.”
Ellsperman not only survived that ordeal but went on to high school at age 12.
“Isn’t that ridiculous?” she asked. “I can’t imagine how I fit in at the age of 12.”
That didn’t stop her from graduating and moving on to Denver University at age 16. She graduated college and worked her entire life.
“Which was rare for women in those days,” Hudgens said. “We laugh about how surprised everybody would be that the tiny, vulnerable newborn exceeded all expectations. She went to college at a time when women didn’t go to college, she worked when women didn’t work and she got divorced when women didn’t get divorced. She was fearless, but in a ladylike way.”
Other than a few broken bones and a cold here and there, Ellsperman has not been affected by major health problems.
“They didn’t expect me to live, but I sure fooled them,” she said.
She mostly avoided alcohol and junk food, although she does enjoy chocolate and coffee. She doesn’t have any big tips for long life, but her advice is straightforward.
“One of the secrets is I didn’t smoke,” she said. “And sun is bad for your skin. I almost drowned once, and I’m scared of water. The only way I like water is under a cruise ship.”
A member of a travel club, she’s been to places like Hawaii and Tahiti, then moved to Missoula in 2001 after she retired.
She made sure she got a lot of exercise in her life.
“She worked all her life but the last job she had in Denver before she retired was at the post office, and she walked to work every day from the bus stop,” explained her son, John States. “So she exercised a lot. And now her room is the farthest from the lunch room. She thinks I put her in this room on purpose so she has to walk farther every day, but really I did it because it has the best view.”
Longevity runs in Ellsperman’s genes. Her grandfather emigrated from Wales, worked as a lumberman and owned land around Aspen, Colo. The family sold the land during the Great Depression, but he lived to be over 100. She still has a picture of him on her wall.
“I guess it skipped a generation,” she said, because her parents didn’t make it to the century mark.
Ellsperman enjoys bingo and chatting with friends these days, and doesn’t worry too much about the future.
“I asked her once what she fears and what she hopes for. She doesn’t fear anything in her future,” said Lou Garman, a nurse who cares for Ellsperman through Hestia In Home Support. “And that’s one of the biggest things I learned from Jane is she doesn’t stress about much. That’s one of the big keys to her living so long. I asked her how long she thinks she’s going to live, and she doesn’t think about it.”
Over the years, she worked for the Air Force Reserves Record Center, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Postal Service. She also taught high school kids business, English and shorthand typing for a while, but didn’t keep that job too long.
“I didn’t like grading papers at night,” she recalled.
At one point, she passed a test to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, but her husband got transferred to a different location.
When you live to be 100, you have your share of near-death experiences and collect plenty of stories.
“When I was a girl, we were living in the woods, and I went to a neighboring farm to pick up the milk,” she recalled. “And a mountain lion was following me, and I guess it thought I looked like a good little tidbit. So I never went after the milk anymore.”