Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Celebrating 104 Years -- License and Wits Intact

Louise Zdellar was 103 this past November, when she fell in her kitchen the day before Thanksgiving.

She refused to push the Life Alert button she wears. She was afraid of being forced to leave her home if her family thought she couldn’t take care of herself. She knew they would be coming the next day to spend the holiday with her.

So, she spent the night on the kitchen floor.

Her family eventually convinced her that she would be safer in a nursing facility.

“I always thought I was going to stay in my home,” she said. “But there comes a point when you have to go.”

Her family gathered recently to celebrate their four February birthdays. Zdellar, who goes by Weezie, turned 104 this month; also celebrating are her daughter, Judy McGrath (turning 73), her granddaughter, Kristen Statler (turning 37) and her great-grandson, Killian Statler, (turning 2).

They sang “Happy Birthday,” and the four of them blew out the candles on the cake together.

Kristen Statler, who hosted the party in her home, said it reminded her of joint birthday celebrations growing up.

Weezie, born in 1916 in south St. Louis, has lived here her entire life. She reflected on the changes she’s seen in her lifetime. She remembers when a lamplighter would illuminate the streetlights in the days when her neighborhood street was made of brick. During Prohibition, she made “home brew” with her father. She went to Roosevelt High School, then transferred to a vocational school. Shell Oil Co. hired her as a messenger girl when she was 16. She would take the streetcar to work downtown. She met her future husband, Peter, at a dance hall when big band dances were the rage.

She became a homemaker, and they raised two children. She remembers how amazing it was when the family first got a television.

“It was a wonderful invention,” she said.

She finally got her driver’s license when she was 52. The officer asked her why she waited so long, and she explained that her family had one car, which her husband drove to work. She was able to walk where she needed in the neighborhood.

Once she started driving, though, she didn’t want to stop. Even at the age of 102, she went by herself to get her license renewed, and still drove her 1993 Ford Tempo to the grocery store and nearby appointments. When she finally gave up her wheels in 2018, the 25-year-old car had 80,000 miles on it.

“I sure miss when I could get in the garage, hop in the car and go to the store,” she said.

At 104, she still has a valid driver’s license.

Weezie has been on her own for quite some time now. Peter died nearly 50 years ago, when he was 61 and she was 55; they were married just shy of 30 years. She says she had a lot of suitors when she was single, but she didn’t go steady with any of them.

“It had to be the real thing,” she said, and that’s what she had with Peter.

“I was happy all the time with him,” she said, and wishes he could have lived to see his grandchildren.

Now, she’s on hospice care with the service where her granddaughter, Kristen, works. If Weezie thinks this might be her last birthday, she doesn’t show it. She poses with her family for numerous photos. She tosses a ball (while sitting in her chair) to her 3-year-old great-granddaughter, who chases after it.

“I’m still here, and He’s letting me keep my wits about me, and that’s important,” she said, referring to God.

Weezie may not have her car or live on her own anymore, but she still has her independent spirit.

After last year’s Thanksgiving dinner, the family brought out Scattergories.

Despite her fall and the night spent on the floor, Weezie won two rounds.