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Newport women celebrate reaching 90 -- and then some

With some aches and pains but generally good health, three women over 90 enjoyed being the center of attention last week at Red Rock Manor, in Newport.

If you live into your 90s, doctors say you probably don't have to be concerned about cholesterol anymore so Ruth Ighel, 94, Bernice Schaab, 90, and Helen Petrowske, 101, celebrated last week with large pieces of birthday cake and two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Their Rod Rock friends and neighbors gave them corsages and a special table and sang "Happy Birthday," a song they've heard many times.

Ighel said she's lasted so long because she had "good parents" as she was growing up in Germany.

Petrowske said many people in her family have lived into their 90s and longer.

Schab said hard work helped her live a long life. She was the first one in her family to live to be 90.

They all have days when they don't feel as well as they did at their birthday celebration and they forget some things now and then. But when asked about their health, they said they feel "pretty good," and are happy to be living independently at Red Rock Manor.

Ighel didn't have an easy life, growing up in Germany before emigrating to the United States.

Life wasn't easy for anyone during World War II, but it was especially difficult in Germany. Ighel's father was in the military and she worked for military men. As an American, now, Ighel wants people to know that, like many Germans, she was never a Nazi.

Traveling throughout Axis countries, she survived bombings in Berlin and was in Dresden during an attack by American bombing.

It wasn't just the bombs that were dangerous, Ighel said. The turbulence from a bomb nearly propelled her into a fire.

She was in a group of people heading for a church during the bombing but decided not to go there at the last minute. Soon after, they would have entered the church, the roof fell on those sheltering there.

The women lived their earlier years in times when it was unusual for women to work outside their homes.

For Schaab, she needed to help her family and took a job in the South St. Paul stockyards where her husband worked.

For 15 years, she said she did "every dirty job" there was at Swift & Co., often within a hostile work environment.

While washing down wooden pallets, some men working below her on a lower floor took advantage of the slats in the pallet to look up at her.

"I turned the hose on them," she said.

Shaab was one tough cookie in her time. After leaving her stockyard job, she became a waitress and cook in her daughter's cafe and bar, retiring at 82.

"Sixty-five meals a day," she said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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