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Gwen Grady couldn’t believe the cheerful patient she had met at Brunswick Universal Healthcare was more than a century old.
That’s because Mae Smicklas, who turns 102 on Sept. 26, is youthful for her age.
Grady, activity director at the Bolivia facility, recently met Smicklas when the centenarian was brought there for recovery after a recent fall.
“I was just amazed at how sharp she is,” said Grady, recalling how Smicklas said, “No, I don’t need any reminders” about taking her medicine.
“I just fell in love with her,” Grady said as Smicklas sat with her son, Tom, and daughter-in-law, Margaret, in her room at the facility last week.
Smicklas lives with Tom and Margaret at their home in RiverSea Plantation in Bolivia.
Right now, she’s doing “as well as can be expected,” Smicklas said, laughing.
“I’ve had a surge of falling,” she said. “I’ve been here for rehab.”
She was born and grew up in Chicago, where her parents emigrated from Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia. She was one of seven children and the last surviving one. She married a boy who lived on the same street in Chicago.
She worked as a telephone operator for Illinois Bell Telephone, “I think, um, 1927 till about 1939,” she said as her only son helped her recall. She also sewed and “did some mending” in her younger days and prefers baking over cooking.
Longevity, Tom said, may run in the family since Smicklas’ mother lived to age 97.
In addition to Tom, Smicklas has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
She moved to Brunswick County with Tom and Margaret about two years ago.
“I broke my arm in 2005,” Smicklas said. “I started my falling career in Berwyn, Ill.”
Tom said up until about six years ago, his mother lived independently.
“I became 100 in Ohio,” Smicklas said. By then, she was living with her son and daughter-in-law.
As for her recovery from her recent fall, “so far, so good,” Smicklas said, relaxing in her wheelchair. “At present my career is sitting.”
She’s the oldest member in the St. Brendan’s Parish in Shallotte, where Tom and Margaret are active musicians. Because of that, “I like music,” Smicklas said.
“She daily watches ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune,’” Tom said. “And she likes to keep up with the news.”
He and Margaret often take Smicklas for rides in the car, to Southport and Holden Beach.
As for her secret to longevity, “oh, I’m in God’s hand,” Smicklas said.
Does she follow healthy eating habits, perhaps?
“Hell, no,” Tom said, pointing out the Twinkies he brought his mom that were waiting for her on her bed at the healthcare facility.
Does she smoke, drink, gamble?
“Gambling, maybe, a little bit,” Smicklas said. “Life is a gamble.”
She said she also does a lot of exercising.
“Every time I go to the hospital, they send me home with a therapist,” Smicklas said. “But sometimes I wonder how I got here.”
It won’t be much too longer before she can go home, said her son, who says she’s been a wonderful mother.
She should get home in time to celebrate her 102nd birthday.
“If I make it,” Smicklas said.
“You will,” Grady said. “You will.”