According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 846 centenarians (people 100 years old or older) in the state of Iowa, third highest in the nation. One of the most famous supercenteniarians (110 years or older) in Johnston was Italian immigrant Dina Manfredini, who lived at Bishop Drumm Retirement Center until she died in 2012 at the age of 115. She was the world’s oldest living person following the death of Besse Cooper of Georgia on Dec. 4, 2012, until her own death 13 days later. She was also the oldest ever person born in Italy, and at the time of her death was one of the 10 verified oldest people in the world. Johnston is still home to centenarian Harold Holmes and almost-centenarian Dorothy Owens, who will be 100 in December.
Life at 100
Harold Holmes says he “grew up” in his father’s grocery store. One of five siblings — two younger and two older sisters — he graduated from Truro High School and went to college at Simpson College where he played basketball and graduated from Capital City Commercial College in Des Moines.
He began working for The Des Moines Register as the secretary to the mechanical superintendent, working on correspondence and bookwork. He spent 40 years at the Register working as a stereographer making plates for the printing press. Stereotyping developed in the 18th century as a way to enable presses to churn out pages faster. Holmes says his department on the third floor was responsible for converting a flat page of type to a rounded cylinder that was placed on the presses.
Holmes took a two-year hiatus from his job at the Register to join the U.S. Forces in the South Pacific during World War II. He served in the Navy on the island of Manus, which was the supply base for the Pacific fleet.
“Ships were in and out all day, every day,” he recalls.
Some of Holmes’ best memories are the times he spent traveling with his wife, Virginia, and son, Dave. The family of three visited every state in the country except Alaska when Dave was growing up. Harold taught his son how to bowl and fish, and some of his happiest memories are of the holidays, especially Christmas. He still loves the season and the gatherings of family and friends.
But his big love is sports — especially baseball.
“My favorite is the Chicago Cubs,” he says.
His daughter-in-law Judy laughs and says, “Harold has promised us he will live long enough to see them win another pennant.”
Holmes has always been a sports lover, and he follows any Iowa team when it comes to college basketball or football. When his health allows, he still manages to get to his great-grandson’s baseball games as well.
Judy chuckles again as she remembers playing tennis with Holmes when he was 75 years old.
“Dave and I were visiting, and we brought our tennis racquets, and we decided to go play,” she says. “Harold had never played before, but he kept right up with us, and he did pretty well really. And he was 75!”
For Holmes, this was typical. He has barely slowed down, even now, though his 100th birthday was in March. He and his wife, Virginia, who passed away two years ago, took their last road trip together — a family visit to Colorado — when he was 95 and she was 90. Holmes drove his own car. He gave up his keys more than a year ago.
Judy says Holmes has had a wonderful life, and he’s an inspiration to his family.
“He has always had a good, faith-based life, and he has just enjoyed being a good man,” she says.
Holmes celebrated his milestone 100th birthday. There were multiple celebrations and cakes, much to the delight of family and friends.
As for the secret to longevity, Holmes keeps it simple.
“Try to find the kind of work that you enjoy doing,” he says. “That’s important. Be good to your family, and be good to kids. I enjoyed every minute of traveling that we did. I’ve just had a good life.”
Nearly a century
Johnston resident Dorothy Owens will join Iowa’s list of centenarians on Dec. 1, 2013.
Owens grew up on a farm with her parents, four brothers and two sisters. She says the family didn’t have a car, but instead owned a horse and buggy. She remembers walking long distances to the country school and to church.
“I was the next-to-the-last of my brothers and sisters,” she says. “I had a lot of people bossing me around, and they’d love to scare me. One time I was standing where they’d water the horses, and my brother scared me, and I fell in the tank. They played pranks. He thought it was funny.”
Owens married Harold Owen in 1937, and the couple had three daughters who currently live in Ankeny, Polk City and Fort Madison.
The couple raised their family in Des Moines and West Des Moines. She says it was hard when they started out, especially because it was during the Depression, and money was scarce. She had a hard time finding a job, but she worked for a while as a young woman at Younkers in the floral department.
“I’ve talked about the Depression to the young kids, and they didn’t know what it was,” she says. “They had no idea. If you lived through it, you’d know. When we got married, we didn’t have much. But we made do with what we had. We had to.”
When World War II started, Harold was in charge of helping get the Ankeny ordnance plant going and spent time in Kansas City, Mo., learning his trade.
“He was one of the first ones called up to serve, but they wouldn’t take him because we had children,” Owens remembers.
It was difficult for Owens raising three daughters during war time.
“I remember when I got my first pair of nylons during the war,” she says. “I lost one of them, and I just about tore the house to pieces to find them because you couldn’t get them. Everything was rationed.”
Harold ultimately worked for the power company in Des Moines. Owens says they enjoyed almost 68 years together, and Harold was buried on their 68th wedding anniversary.
When asked how many grandkids and great-grandkids she has, Owens laughs and says, “I have to ask my daughter because there are so many I can’t remember. I joke that we populated the world.”
Owens will celebrate birthday No. 100 in December. She says everyone has told her there will be quite a party, and everyone is planning to come. She is happy to celebrate a century on this earth.
“I’ve had a good life,” she says. “I’ve had a nice husband, and my kids were good, and that’s what counts. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”