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‘Not a bit lonely’: She’s a century old and living on her own

Jo Hamann sees "Happy 100th" birthday wishes via Facetime.
Jo Hamann, left, sees “Happy 100th” birthday wishes from members the SCAN team (who couldn’t be there because of the pandemic) via Facetime in July.
(Robert Duron)

Jo Hamann is 100 years old and still happily lives on her own. She attributes her longevity and independence to “sturdy peasant stock.”

On behalf of those of us who might not be lucky enough to come from the same stock, I asked about her habits to see if I could unearth some clues to a long and, most importantly healthy, life.

Here’s what she told me.

Breakfast is cold cereal and half a banana.

Lunch is something light, like maybe liverwurst and crackers, but always involves a piece of dark chocolate.

Dinner includes a glass of red wine and is often followed by something sweet: a cookie or biscotti.

And for those concerned about cutting back on coffee consumption, take heart: Jo drinks four to six cups every morning with the newspaper. Afternoons are spent doing word puzzles, reading paperback fiction or getting on her computer to check emails or play solitaire. Evenings she settles into her recliner to watch “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” before switching to PBS.

She recalls fondly her earlier, busier life; how after she retired from her secretary job she and her husband Les got an RV and traveled all over America and Canada. When he died nearly a quarter century ago, she decided she wasn’t going to feel sorry for herself.

“I don’t remember panicking about things,” she said.

Jo Hamann enjoys a socially distanced celebration of her 100th birthday.
Jo Hamann enjoys a socially distanced celebration of her 100th birthday at the mobile home community in Yorba Linda where she lives.
(Robert Duron)

In fact she is quite happy living alone at her senior citizen mobile home park in Yorba Linda.

“I don’t want to have a roommate,” she said. “I like doing what I do when I want to do with it. I’m not a bit lonely.”

In a nutshell, Jo epitomizes the spirit of senior independent living.

That’s why she was selected for a social media campaign called “stAGEs: 100 over 100,” launched last spring by Senior Care Action Network. SCAN is a not-for-profit Medicare Advantage health plan founded in Long Beach in 1977 “by 12 angry seniors” advocating for services to help them stay in their own homes and out of a nursing care facilities as long as possible.

The digital docuseries has so far spotlighted 56 Californians (in photos and short videos) who are 100 to 104 years old and still living on their own. The aim: to break the stereotypes associated with aging.

“Many see aging as frailty, but these are portraits of strength,” said Eve Gelb, SCAN’s community health vice president. “Older people are strong and smart and vibrant and we owe them a lot and we can learn a lot from them. Older folks don’t have to be a burden.”

The campaign’s other mission is to highlight the importance of reaching out to elderly friends and relatives, particularly through the isolating COVID-19 lockdowns.

“We hope folks don’t run away from the older adults in their lives; that they embrace the older folks in their lives,” Gelb said.

Director Alice Gu makes her film debut with “The Donut King,” a documentary about Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee whose charmed life is full of war, romance, entrepreneurship, racism and a caution about greed. Also, significantly for Ngoy, other Cambodian refugees and their children — donuts.

Two of Jo’s three foster children are still alive but do not live nearby. Her only biological daughter died in 1959 at age 15 of after an operation for a heart defect. But her biological son takes her to the Pancake House in Placentia every Friday morning for breakfast. And two of her grandchildren visit regularly.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Jo played the tile game Mexican Train several times a week with friends at her mobile home park. Not quite a decade ago she took a dance class at the clubhouse until she fell and broke her hip at age 91 while waltzing with a partner.

“He went one way and I went the other,” she said. “Nobody will let me dance anymore, so I had to give that up.”

Exercise is down to a daily walk outside, with her cane for balance.

Jo said she takes medication only for her blood pressure and something else that she couldn’t recall off the top of her head.

“Oh Lordy, maybe I should be taking medicine for my memory,” she said, laughing, but then later recalled it was for her thyroid.

black-and-white portrait of Jo Hamann
The portrait of Jo Hamann included in SCAN’s “stAGEs: 100 over 100" photo series.
(Robert Duron)

She takes no vitamins.

As for that “sturdy peasant stock,” it is mostly German. She was born here, though, in Minnesota, in July 1920, one of seven children.

“I learned to get along and accept whatever was there without expecting more,” is how she explained her upbringing.

Her favorite decade so far? Her 50s.

“By then you’ve been through a lot and you’ve seen a lot and, you know, you’ve learned to adjust to life,” she said.

As for the future?

“I don’t care how long I live as long as I can enjoy living,” she said. “If you’re in good health and you enjoy life and you enjoy seeing people and your mind is still OK, then you should keep going.”

Good advice for the over 80,000 centenarians living in America today.

To follow stAGES:100 over 100:

Instagram: @scan_lb

Facebook: facebook.com/scanhealthplan/

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