by Kathy Wolfe

Who you calling old? Not these remarkable people, that’s for sure! In observation of the International Day of the Elderly on October 1, Tidbits pays its respects to the accomplishments of those dubbed “elderly” by society.

• Poland-born virtuoso pianist Artur Rubenstein’s accomplishments began at a young age and continued for over 90 years. At age two, he demonstrated perfect pitch, and by age four, he was considered a child prodigy. His concert debut was at age 7, performing Mozart, Schubert, and Mendelssohn. At 13, he was performing with the Berlin Philharmonic, and had his first performance at Carnegie Hall at 19. An Oscar-winning documentary “The Love of Life” chronicled his life and career. In 1976, he gave his final concert at 89, after eight decades of performances. Rubenstein was fluent in eight languages.

In her 20s, New York nurse Barbara Hillary survived breast cancer. In her 60s, she conquered lung cancer. And at age 75, she conquered the North Pole, setting foot on the Pole in 2007. At 79, Barbara stood on the South Pole. In 2004, 89-year-old Dorothy Davenhill traveled aboard a Russian nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole, the oldest person to visit the Pole.

    Fore! Apparently age has nothing to do with the ability to score a hole-in-one. In 1985, 99-year-old Swiss golfer Otto Bucher did it at a Spanish golf course on the 130-yard 12th hole. His feat was topped in 2014 when 103-year-old Gus Andreone achieved his eighth lifetime hole-in-one at Sarasota, Florida’s Lakes Course on a 113-yard hole. Andreone had his first hole-in-one in 1939 and was a member of the PGA for more than 75 years. His advice: “You should get up and enjoy the day, take a little time to look around, enjoy the scenery and the golf course and the people you’re playing with.”

• The list of Hulda Crooks’ achievements is a long one. This American mountaineer climbed California’s Mt. Whitney 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91. Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) is the tallest mountain in the Lower 48. In addition to Mt. Whitney, she scaled 97 other peaks during the same time period. At 91, she became the oldest woman to complete the ascent of Japan’s 12,388-ft (3,776 m) Mt. Fuji. Hulda hiked the entire 212-mile (341-km) John Muir Trail in the high Sierras as well as hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At 95, she was still walking two miles (3.2 km) every day.

    In 1987, nine days after Hulda Crooks’ Mt. Fuji accomplishment, Teiichi Igarashi, a former lumberjack and forest ranger in Japan, did the same thing … only he was 100! This gentleman had been climbing Fuji every year since he was 89, and became the first centenarian to complete the ascent. Igarashi’s daily routine was to rise at 6 AM, eat his regular bowl of rice with raw eggs, soy bean soup, and vegetables, and take a one-hour nap after lunch. He completed a two-hour walk each afternoon and went to bed at 8 PM each day.

• In 1976, Greek runner Dimitrion Yordanidis completed the 26-mile (41.8-km) marathon from Marathon, Greece to Athens in 7 hours, 33 minutes. Not bad for a 98-year-old! In 2011, the Toronto Marathon was completed by 100-year-old Fauja Singh in 8 hours, 11 minutes. Singh renewed his passion for running in his 80s following the deaths of his wife and his son.

The Hawaii Ironman event has been mastered by two astounding gentlemen, both in their 80s. In 2011, 81-year-old New York physicist Lew Hollander completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon run. Hollander wasn’t finished after his Hawaiian achievement – he finished the Panama City, Florida Ironman in 2014 at 84.    In 2018, 85-year-old Hiromu Inada completed the Hawaii event, breaking Hollander’s record.

German historian and scholar Theodor Mommsen was hailed as “the greatest living master of the art of historical writing” after his massive work “A History of Rome,” a multi-volume history of ancient Rome. He received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1902, when he was 85 years old.

    Peter Roget’s achievement at age 73 was remarkable, extraordinary, amazing, outstanding, noteworthy, and significant. Why all these descriptive synonyms? Roget was a British physician who collected synonyms and antonyms for his entire life and organized them into the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition    first published in 1852, continuing for 28 printings during Roget’s life. It’s believed he made word lists as a means of coping with depression.

Another senior citizen wordsmith, Noah Webster, completed his “American Dictionary of the English Language” in 1828 at age 70. After a simpler effort in 1806, Webster spent the next 22 years expanding his work. Unfortunately, the dictionary only sold 2,500 copies, and Webster had to mortgage his home to continue his work. For the remainder of his life, he struggled with debt, and Webster died without having received proper recognition for his work.   

    It was back to the classroom for these “oldsters”! Nola Ochs finally received her bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays, Kansas at age 95, 77 years after she began her education. After dropping out in the 1930s, she raised four sons on the family farm. When she received her diploma in 2007, she graduated next to her 21-year-old granddaughter. Nola enjoyed her achievement for another 10 years before passing away at 105. Oregonian Leo Plass dropped out college in the midst of the Great Depression, just one semester before graduation. Times were tough, forcing Leo to take a job with a logging company for $150 a month. In 2011, at age 99, Leo stepped up to the podium to receive his diploma from Eastern Oregon University, 79 years after dropping out.

Tao Porchon-Lynch fell and broke her hip at age 87 and required hip replacement surgery. Her doctor told her to slow down and take it easy. So much for doctor’s orders! Tao, who had been studying yoga since she was 8, was back to teaching classes a month later, and was still teaching 12 classes a week six years later.    She also signed up for ballroom dancing lessons shortly after her hip surgery.    At 93, she was still winning dancing competitions and at 96, competed on “America’s Got Talent” as the oldest competitive ballroom dancer. Tao passed away peacefully at 101.