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A century of living

SUPERIOR, Wis.--Nina Rivard grew up in the horse and buggy days. Her mother cooked on a wood stove and her neighborhood - Superior's Butler Park area - was checkered with farms.

"At one time everybody out here had small animals, manure piles, hay barns," Rivard said. "It was all cows and chickens."

She lived more than 70 years in the same spot, raising four children. The small woman with tightly-curled gray hair lived through World War II, the Depression and the loss of her first husband. She baked, canned, grew beautiful flowers and could really cut a rug.

"She used to like to dance," said her husband, Oliver.

Tuesday, friends and family gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to the 100-year-old Rivard. With a glass of champagne in her hand the Superior woman said she was overwhelmed by the attention. Others said she deserved a big to-do.

"She's the best," said Rivard's niece, Mary Ann Johnson.

"She never has an unkind word to say about anyone," said Rivard's former daughter-in-law, Helen Hase. "She's sweet and has a positive outlook, even though she's been through a lot."

Her 93-year-old husband put his arm around Rivard.

"All I got to say for the old gal here," he said with a grin, "she's pretty alert yet."

"Just don't tell too much," Rivard piped up.

Rivard reads the newspaper every day and her husband still does their weekly shopping at Wal-Mart.

What, she was asked, is the secret to long life?

"Just living," Rivard said.

The Superior woman has 100 years of wisdom stored up.

"Yeah, but it's faded," she said. "I've lived a good life. I can't complain. I had two good husbands, four good kids ..."

Her parents came to America from Sweden - first to Omaha, Neb., then settling in Superior. With all the aunts and uncles living nearby, Rivard said, they had enough family members for a ready-made party. She learned to dance to schottiches and polkas and grew up with three siblings.

"We had a lot of fun times," Rivard said.

Cooking on a woodstove, however, she could have done without.

"Those darn things," Rivard said. "They talk about the good old days. No, I wouldn't want 'em."

The first automobile she drove was an old Model T. Her brother had parked the car in the yard. Rivard hopped in and took it for a drive.

"I went around the block on low band," she said. "I was going around a second time when the neighbor stopped me." He taught her how to switch gears so she wouldn't burn out the low band.

The best invention in the last 100 years, she said, was the furnace because it got rid of all the black smoke from the wood stove.

She raised many chickens and ducks, hatching some of them herself. Rivard and her husband shared the tale of a mother chicken who hatched duck eggs for them. One day when Rivard went into the pen to feed them, the frightened ducks flew off with their surrogate mother on their backs.

"We had a lot of fun with animals," Rivard said. And both enjoy gardening - Rivard grew flowers, her husband preferred vegetables.

"I told her, 'You can't eat those flowers,'" he said.

The couple will celebrate their 60th anniversary in December. He was the boy next door, who grew up across the creek from his wife-to-be. They said doing things together and sharing interests helps keep them close. Oliver Rivard said his wife is calm and slow to argue. She also keeps him in mind. Recently, she had Hase give her a permanent. Rivard was happy to let her hair grow out straight, but her husband prefers it curly.

"We all got a kick out of it," Hase said.

"Behind every good man is a woman," Johnson said.

The couple said they are the old folks in the neighborhood now.

Rivard quoted Betty White, saying that all her good old friends are gone and she'd need a Ouiji board to communicate with them.

But, her husband added, "We've got some new friends."

Many of them gathered Tuesday to drink a toast to Rivard on her 100th birthday.

"She's a wonderful woman," Hase said.

"She's the best," Johnson added.

Maria Lockwood is a reporter for the Superior Telegram, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.