“Grandma” Gertie Williams says the secret to a long life is square dancing, cross-country skiing, and reading with kids.
Williams is a longtime volunteer with the Grandparent Reading Program at Belvedere Parkway School in northwest Calgary.
Earlier this month, she turned 102.
“They say we help the children, and it’s very interesting work,” she says.
“I think a lot of them haven’t got grandmas here in Calgary.”
Every Thursday, Gertie and about two dozen other women head out to the elementary school in Bowness and listen as young children read to them.
She’s been at it, on and off, since the program began in 1997.
According to the kids, she’s always a big hit.
“It’s really fun reading with Grandma Gertie,” says second grader Kelley Tibbles.
“She’s really nice, and I love reading with her.”
Erik Beyaert, in grade one, agrees.
“She’s the oldest grandparent … it’s like really nice to read to her. And Belvedere Parkway is really lucky to have these parents come [to the school].”
No texting or iPads
The children seem to have a hard time picturing just how old 102 really is, but seven-year-old Tibbles understands things were different when Williams was a child.
“They didn’t have texting, I don’t think, computers or iPads” she says.
But she imagines life back in the 1920s was probably “really fun.”
Gloria Prokopow has been volunteering at the school for 10 years and drives Williams to their weekly sessions.
“Gertie at 102 is remarkable, and she wants to keep going as long as she can. And she will. She has a few health issues, but she’ll just keep coming,” Prokopow says.
“Now, we’ve passed 101, and 102, and she’s still with us, and she looks forward to every Thursday morning.”
Keys to longevity
Williams credits outdoor activities and her ancestry for her longevity.
“I say good Irish blood. My parents came from…