Rachel Kreider, 105, on technology, longevity and outliving her contemporaries

    Born in 1909, The Goshen woman never expected to live so long and isn’t quite sure how she did it. It’s her birthday Wednesday.

    Posted on May 28, 2014 at 9:31 a.m.

    GOSHEN — As a child growing up in the Goshen area, oranges and bananas were rare, welcome treats for Rachel Kreider.

    Later, as a graduate student at Ohio State University in the mid-1930s, she participated in a move against compulsory military training, then the norm there and at many other schools. She remained active in the peace movement.

    On Wednesday, May 28, Kreider, born May 28, 1909, reached another milestone — she turned 105 years old.

    Does that make the Greencroft Goshen resident the oldest person in Elkhart County? She’s not sure, she said Tuesday, and no one formally tracks the ages of those living here. Whatever the case, she counts among the oldest here — there were just 35 people aged 100 or older in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

    And the years give her plenty to talk about.

    Q: What’s been the most significant change you’ve noticed over the years of your life?

    A: “Modern technology,” she said. “The world is so very different.”

    Kreider’s no slouch in the academic department. She got her undergraduate degree at Goshen College and a master’s at Ohio State. Now if she has a question, though, her daughter-in-law — the go-to gal for answers — will “push a button and have the answer immediately,” Kreider said. “Some of these things seem like pure magic.”

    An old Olympia typewriter sits on a desk in her Greencroft room and she recently used it to type a letter to a grandson. Thanks to modern technology, though, she can keep using the relic.

    It’s hard to get replacement ribbons, but an acquaintance “pushing buttons” on a computer found out where to get one, she said. "You can do anything on the internet.”

    Q: What’s the key to your longevity?

    A: Kreider offered no clear-cut path to living beyond 100 — bafflement, even, over lasting so long. "I’m surprised. I never expected to reach this point,” she said.

    The example her father set, though, perhaps offers a clue. “My father always emphasized moderation and regulation,” she said. “I don’t know, though.”

    And she spoke of the balance in her life. “I always put homemaking and church first. But I always had other things on the string, too,” she said.

    Q: How do you deal with outliving all your contemporaries?

    A: “I’m sort of accepting,” she said. “When you get to be this old, just go with the flow.”

    She misses family members who have passed on, like husband Leonard, a research chemist who died in 2001, and a daughter who died at the age of 39. But she still has friends from “the later generations” and even has a 94-year-old sister in Tulsa, Okla.

    "Drives her own car,” Kreider said of her sibling. “Gets around very well.”

    She also has a 76-year-old son, Emil, who lives in Harrisonburg, Va., and other grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered around the country.

    Q: What’s a typical day like?

    A: Kreider loves to read — in fact, she had read to a blind man at Greencroft earlier that day. “My reading isn’t what it used to be, but he’ll put up with it,” she said.

    There’s a full book shelf in her room and lying around are issues of Time magazine, Mennonite World Review newspaper and the New York Times Book Review. 

    Church is big for her and she makes it to services, at Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, about once every three Sundays.

    Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to communicate with others at Greencroft, as much as she’d like to. “I like them all, but we’re all kind of deaf,” she said.

    Q: What are you most proud of?

    A: Being a Mennonite, Kreider is not one to be “braggy,” she said. But a few things come through.

    She’s firm in her belief that peace and nonviolence is the way. She got involved in the peace movement 80 years ago at Ohio State and kept it up over the years, even in 2002 on the eve of the war in Iraq, according to Mennonite Life, an online publication put out by Bethel College in Kansas.

    "Violence and war is so destructive,” she said. “It just affects so much of our lives.”

    She’s also unequivocally pleased how her three kids, Emil, Anna and Sara, turned out, even if she outlived her two daughters. They all ended up getting doctorate degrees and that gives her “great satisfaction.”

    Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.

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