May 19, 2004

Student project details
nearly 2,000 years of living

From the first Ford and two World Wars to the Kings in the playoffs – you see a lot when you live more than 100 years. For students at California State University, Sacramento the opportunity to transcribe the experiences of local centenarians proved to be an invaluable learning experience.

Gerontology and nursing students interviewed the elders about their outlook on life, their memories and the secrets of their longevity. The results will be compiled in a booklet that will be handed out at a June 10 fundraiser for elder abuse prevention.

Of the more than 140 centenarians Social Security Administration records say live in Sacramento County, nearly 20 were interviewed for this project. And while the students learned a great deal about events of the last century, they learned even more about the people who lived them.

“It was a myth-buster,” says Cheryl Osborne, chair of the University’s gerontology program, noting that nearly all of the interviewees were living on their own or with family rather than in care facilities. “They’re not all sick. Unlike we often see in the media, most were managing well.”

Even though she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in gerontology, meeting a person who was over one hundred was a first for Janelle Thurber, “I’ve never known anyone over 75. Doing the interview gave me a more positive attitude.”

Osborne says this isn’t unusual for students. “They learn about ‘gerontology’ but with this project they got to see it and interact with it. Just because they’re nursing or gerontology students doesn’t mean they don’t have the same biases about seniors that others have.”

With nearly 2,000 years of life experience between them, the stories the elders told offered glimpses of both their pasts and the present.

They tell of careers: Mildred Petersen traveled the Central Valley as the piano player for a dance band while Eva Robinson worked for Selective Service. And of being at war: Leila Dunn worked as a shipyard electrician in World War II and “Chick” Amsberry had Victory Gardens for both World War I, when he was too young to go, and World War II, when he was too old.

Of coming to America: Mui Chan’s family immigrated from China to escape the Communists. Gregoria Baltran came from the Philippines at age 82. And being Northern Californians: Ina Sutton follows the Kings, Stockton native Mary Edna Hooper, the 49ers. Hooper even got a 105th birthday greeting from her favorite player, Steve Young.

They even reveal the secrets of their long lives: Eva Robinson abstains from drinking and smoking. Charles Amsberry has an occasional dip of chewing tobacco. Ina Sutton swam every day until she was 98.

Osborne hopes to continue the interviews annually and sees them as a potential source of material for future research projects by comparing what they find in their interviews with longevity studies.

The benefit for Take a Stand against Elder Abuse will be at the Sacramento Hilton from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 10. The event is sponsored by CSUS and the Department of Health Services. Tickets to the event are available by contacting Take a Stand Against Elder Abuse at (916) 874-3183.

Media assistance, including copies of the interview summaries, are available by contacting the CSUS Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu