A century times two


Precious memories outweigh lifes troubles for two women marking their 100-year birthdays

by: KATIE WILSON/PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Evelyn Sasseen (left) and Mary Marcinko (right) regularly eat lunch together at the Avamere senior care facility in St. Helens. The women celebrated a shared milestone when they both turned 100 on June 9.

After 100 years, few things can take Evelyn Sasseen and Mary Marcinko by surprise. Consider this: Raised in different states, they had never met each other until both ended up at Avamere, a senior care center in St. Helens. They soon discovered they shared a birthday of June 9, 1912.

"It's kind of interesting, isn't it?" Marcinko said mildly.

Marcinko grew up in the wild woods of northwest Oregon with loggers and road builders. Sasseen, the daughter of a Norwegian carpenter, lived in Seattle in a house on Queen Anne's Hill.

If anything can catch these women off guard, it might have been the 100-year mark itself.

"I never thought about getting old. I mean, you just live," Sasseen said. "Now it's finally dawning on me."

Statistically, it's much more probable for two women to celebrate 100-year birthdays together than it would be for two men.

According to U.S. Census briefs released in 2011, women outnumber men in the older age brackets and have for the last decade. In Oregon, census counters recorded 77,872 people who were 85 years or older in 2010.

Longevity research, at its most basic, says four things are key to a long life: health, attitude, strong interpersonal relationships and, to some extent, genetics.

Certainly Sasseen and Marcinko have both maintained a positive outlook on life and, with the aid of walkers, are still mobile.

But Marcinko gives all the credit to God - and her temper.

"I'm still kind of feisty in a way," she said. "Well, I need that. That's what keeps me going."

Praying, reading and keeping herself healthy occupy most of Marcinko's time now. Blind in one eye from a stroke, she said there is no way to prepare for age.

"You don't know what's in store for you," she said. "You have to take it day by day."

Growing up in rural Mist, Ore., Marcinko could never have predicated everything she would see in her life: the challenges or the changes.

"From nothing to ... computers and a computer world. Now where's that going?" Marcinko exclaimed. "Cars. Airplanes. So if you're wondering what it's going to be like, I don't think anyone can tell you."

Sasseen faced her own unpredictable challenges - the death of a daughter, the death of a husband, the death of a friend whose five young children she raised - but said age gives her perspective.

"I've had a good life," she said. "I've never suffered. Life wasn't exciting, but it was pleasant."

Both she and Marcinko lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Neither woman dwells on the hardships. Instead they focus on what matters to them: happy memories, children, grandchildren, hobbies, God, books and health.

"One hundred years sounds like such a long time, but it seems to me like it's been very short," Marcinko said. She's not worried about what must inevitably come next. She looks forward to an eternal life in heaven.

And, as Sasseen pointed out, "At 100 years old, you don't worry too much about tomorrow."