How do you reach 104? ‘Stay busy’

March 7, 2019

Agnes Gresen was 2 years old when the 1918 flu pandemic swept across the globe, killing her mother and another 50 to 100 million people.

Tuesday, the longtime Bradley resident celebrated her 104th birthday with her 12-year-old Chihuahua, Tobey, and nephew, Brian Miller, whom she lives with in Kankakee.

Gresen was born March 5, 1915, on a farm in Danforth. Two years later, the flu pandemic infected her parents and four siblings in the final year of World War I.

“We all had the flu,” Gresen said. “We were all in bed and had two nurses. We all survived besides my mom. She was 29.”

After that, Gresen made it through the Great Depression. She and her ex-husband got married in 1937. Unemployment made the Depression the most difficult time of Gresen’s life.

“They wouldn’t let married women work. So, I quit so that my husband could keep his job,” Gresen said. “Then, the Depression hit, and we were both out of a job and food. My dad lived on the farm and came up with a big bag of meat and vegetables. They helped us make it.”

Gresen’s luck changed after she got a job at F.W. Woolworth in Kankakee, where she served as a manager for 20 years before the store closed.

Gresen and her ex-husband got divorced in 1947. She has been independent ever since, having built her own house in the 1600 block of Evergreen Lane in Bradley in the early 1960s.

“I bought the lot and built the house for $12,000,” Gresen said. “That’s how much times have changed.”

Gresen lived in the home until she moved in with her nephew last year. She was 103 years old when she stopped driving her 1985 Buick Regal Limited, which had 78,000 miles on it when she sold it.

“She is really proud that she had her house built in Bradley and lived in it for almost 60 years,” Miller said. “She was very proud and independent. She kept cutting her grass until she was 90.”

When asked what it takes to live to be 104 years old, Gresen had simple advice.

“Keep busy. Keep busy. Keep busy,” she said.

She exemplified that by volunteering at the Riverside Medical Center gift shop for 17 years.

She continues to stay busy playing bingo every Monday with the Bourbonnais Township Park District, where she celebrated her birthday Monday. Gresen started the party by winning the first round of bingo despite not having five of her personal cards to play.

“I never win,” she said with a laugh. “I have 103 wishes left now.”

Outside of bingo, Gresen enjoys going out to eat at Olive Garden, Bakers Square, Red Lobster, Panera Bread and the K & H Truck Plaza in Gilman for breakfast. Every day, she completes her crossword puzzles and watches “The Price is Right” at 10 a.m.

Recently, she and her nephew visited her old family farm for the first time in about 80 years. Gresen spotted a live well on the northern end of the property.

“I am blessed because my health is good, and I’m doing great,” Gresen said. “I can go when I want to. I have to use a walker, but everything’s fine. I’m going to stay active.”