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GAIL WHITE At 96, Poland woman is just getting started



Published: Fri, August 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



When Gertrude Manning of Poland turned 93, her doctor told her she needed to start acting her age.

At 96, he is still urging.

"I don't like sitting," Gertrude insists.

Every morning in the summer, Gertrude, cane in hand, can be found walking down Beech Avenue in Poland.

"I don't need it," Gertrude says of the cane. Her family insists that she carry it.

"How far do you walk?" I ask.

"I don't know. I never measured it," she answers. "I walk from one corner to the other."

In the winter, when she is living in Florida, she walks three miles a day.

Most people half her age -- even a third her age -- might feel that is enough exercise for one day.

Not Gertrude. She is just getting started.

For 18 years, she swam 50 laps a day in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Part of her compromise with her doctor three years ago was to cut back on her laps. Now, she swims for just one hour.

That was upsetting for Gertrude. But not as upsetting as when she was asked to stop diving at 90.

A late starter: Ironically, Gertrude never learned to swim until she was 65 years old.

She recalls the day very well.

"I got in the water and said, 'I'm finished. I'll never be back.'" Her friend told her, "You can't quit. You haven't tried yet."

She heeded the sound advice and became an avid swimmer.

Swimming is just one of the new ventures Gertrude has tried in the second half of her life.

At 55 she learned to drive.

At 95 she tried motorcar racing.

When she was 78, Gertrude made her first trip across the country with three women her age.

For two years in a row, Gertrude has been the shuffleboard champion at her winter condominium association. This past year, she had to beat her son, Jack, for the title.

Bridge is another pastime Gertrude has enjoyed in her latter years. Every Thursday from 9 to 2:30 she can be found at the Poland United Methodist Church playing with the ladies.

"We break for lunch," Gertrude assures.

Gertrude smiles shyly as her daughter, Carol McTigue of Poland, and granddaughter Mary Jo Averell of Boardman, share more stories of Gertrude's adventures.

"You're remarkable," says Carol.

The right attitude: "I've had a wonderful life," Gertrude responds. "I've had lots of wonderful times in my lifetime."

"Mother, you deserved every one," her daughter adds.

Carol goes on to explain the years of service her mother provided for members of her family in the years before swimming and shuffleboard.

"She has taken care of every member of her family," Carol says. From brothers and sisters to in-laws and uncles, Gertrude opened her heart and her home to those in need.

"At one point," Mary Jo interjects, "she had her mom and dad, her uncle, her son and her husband's first cousin living with her!"

Though most of them were living with her because they were ill and Gertrude cared for them while working full time, she remembers the time with fondness. "Oh, the fun we had in those years!"

As a child, Carol remembers her mother's service to others.

"She baked every day," Carol remembers. "She even made desserts for the neighbors," Carol smiles, looking over at her husband, Joe.

The mother next door had died, leaving five boys and one girl. Gertrude took it upon herself to provide pies and cakes for the family.

Joe was one of those boys next door. Those desserts were the beginning of a courtship. Joe and Carol celebrate 50 years of marriage this month.

It is through this kind of prevailing through hardships and spreading of love that Gertrude has embraced life. She lives by a prescription that no doctor can prescribe.

When there are lemons, she makes lemonade. When there is lemonade, she drinks in every last drop.

gwhite@vindy.com




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