The world’s oldest man, Walter Breuning, died Thursday of natural causes. The Montana resident was 114.

Coincidentally, ABC World News aired a segment the same day about 97-year-old Agnes Zhelesnik, who is still a full-time preschool teacher in New Jersey.

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with people who live to be centenarians (or at least come close). I may even be married to a future one, considering my wife’s great-grandmother Ethel lived to be 107.

My fascination comes from considering how much change and notable events these “golden oldies” have seen in their lifetimes — and the ages they were when those things took place. For example, Breuning was born before baseball’s American League was organized (1900), Teddy Roosevelt became president (1901), Thomas Edison invented the modern battery (1902), the Ford Motor Company sold its first automobile (1903), the Wright brothers’ first flight (1903), the New York City subway opened (1904), and Scouting was founded in Britain by Sir Robert Baden-Powell (1907). He was a teenager when the Titanic sunk and World War I began; in his 20s when Prohibition was enacted and American women won the right to vote; in his 30s when the Great Depression began; in his 40s when the Hindenburg blew up, Amelia Earhart was lost at sea and World War II took place; in his 50s when the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and Sen. Joseph McCarthy waged a libelous war against alleged communists; in his 60s when the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones started playing; in his 70s when Martin Luther King was assassinated, men landed on the moon, and the Watergate scandal took place; in his 80s when John Hinckley shot President Reagan and the space shuttle Challenger exploded; in his 90s when the Exxon Valdez dumped more than a million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan waters and the first Iraq war took place; in his 100s when the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place; and in his 110s when America elected its first black president.

So what’s the secret to long life? Reporters always ask that of centenarians, and according to the Washington Post, Breuning’s answers to that question were:

Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. (“Every change is good.”)

Eat two meals a day. (“That’s all you need.”)

Work as long as you can. (“That money’s going to come in handy.”)

Help others. (“The more you do for others, the better shape you’re in.”)

And the hardest of all: Accept death.

“We’re going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die, because you’re born to die,” he said.

Zhelesnik’s keys to staying active well into your 90s are keeping busy and having a sense of purpose.

In August 2009, I wrote about Freyda Siegel, a Massachusetts woman who had recently turned 100. You can read her tips for living a long life well by clicking here.

When I wrote that blog post, I asked readers to share their own tips for living life well, even if they’re still young. I’m making the same request now. Share your thoughts in the comments section, and of course, live your life well.


Pop quiz time: What’s wrong with this lead from a story posted late last night on the (Ottawa) Times‘ Web site?

A basement fire in a two-story Main Street residence created plenty of smoke but no fire in the building’s two apartment units.

If you questioned how something that “created plenty of smoke but no fire” can properly be referred to as “a basement fire,” then you passed the test. After all, how can a fire be a fire if it didn’t create fire?

The Boston Globe‘s Web site currently features a nice story about a Needham, Mass., woman, Freyda Siegel, who recently turned 100. (Her best quote: “I think this has been a good century for me.”) The article includes a sidebar listing Siegel’s 18 tips for living a long life well:

Live in the present, not the past.
Enjoy personal relationships.
Respect every individual regardless of age, status, education, ability, or political affiliation.
Stimulate your mind (reading, games, politics, sports).
Help other people.
Eat well.
Splurge once in a while.
Exercise and get fresh air.
Avoid perfectionism.
Find the positive in situations.
Don’t waste energy on things you can’t change.
Avoid bearing grudges.
Kvetch not.
Be a good listener.
Beware of giving unsolicited advice.
Think creatively.
Remain curious.
Have fun!

I think it’s safe to assume there aren’t any centenarians reading my blog, but I’ll still pose this question to you youngsters who do: Are there any tips you would add to Siegel’s list?

I’ll start the Bread Line additions with this: Professionally, do something you enjoy.

The top story posted on the Ottawa Times Web site at this hour is about Flames Texas Grill in Streator being under new ownership. Here are the first three paragraphs of the five-paragraph article; pay close attention to the second paragraph:

Flames Texas Grill in Streator is under new ownership.

Hector and Irma Avelar of Elgin took possession of the business at 1702 N. Bloomington St. in January when the former owners moved back to Texas to be closer to family, according to Maria Gonzalez, employee of the store.

The Avelars own two other restaurants, one in Elgin and one in Chicago. They have been in the business 12 years and wanted to expand.

Breaking news! The restaurant changed hands seven months ago!

Need I say more?

The remains of the Green Mill, three months after the restaurant burned down in late December 2008. The northwest corner of Columbus and Madison streets in Ottawa, Ill., still looks like this nearly four months after I snapped this photo.

The remains of the Green Mill, three months after the restaurant burned down in late December 2008. The northwest corner of Columbus and Madison streets in Ottawa, Ill., still looked like this last week, nearly four months after I snapped this photo.

Nearly seven months after the Green Mill restaurant burned down, the remaining debris is finally going to be cleaned up.

On April 8 — more than three months ago — the local newspaper, The Times, ran a story with the following headline: “Removal of Green Mill debris to begin soon.” Nothing in the story led readers to believe the headline was erroneous. Thus, if “soon” meant within four months, the newspaper was right on target.

Last Thursday, The Times reported the cleanup would begin Monday. The newspaper was right that time, though judging by how little debris was actually removed late Tuesday afternoon, it may not be right about the cleanup taking only “three to four days.” To be fair, it was an Ottawa building and zoning official who estimated the job would be finished in four days, not the newspaper.

No matter the source of the faulty information, I’m tired of reading about how this longstanding mess is going to be cleaned up. I’m even more tired of driving past that eyesore every time I head north on Route 23 toward Interstate 80. The Environmental Protection Agency classified the rubble as special waste rather than friable asbestos — which means it won’t cost an exorbitant amount to haul it away — so get that mess cleaned up already!

Three people died and two others were injured when an Amtrak train struck the vehicle they were riding in shortly after 3 p.m. Monday near Somonauk, which is in the northernmost part of La Salle County, the county where I reside in Illinois. I’m writing about the accident because nearly nine hours after it happened, you still can’t read even the briefest amount of information about it on the Web site of either of the county’s daily newspapers, The Times and the NewsTribune. (More about that shortly.)

However, news about the fatal crash can be found on the Web sites of the Aurora Beacon News (which covers the Somonauk area), the Peoria Journal Star, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and two radio stations. The Associated Press is reporting the story (erroneously stating the crash happened near Ottawa, which is not true — Amtrak doesn’t pass anywhere close to Ottawa) and so did at least one Chicago TV station during its 5 p.m. newscast.

As midnight approaches, here is what I know about the crash, with information culled from the various sources mentioned above:

Two people killed in the crash were Benjamin Rasmusen, 82, and Marilyn Rasmusen, 81, both of Leland. They were pronounced dead at the scene. The name of the third fatality hasn’t been released. Of the two people injured in the crash, one was air-lifted to a Rockford hospital; the other was treated and released from an unspecified hospital.

La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said it appears the vehicle didn’t stop before crossing the tracks. I don’t know if there are crossing gates where the accident occurred, on East 23rd Road just north of Route 34.

Obviously news of the fatal crash was out by 5 p.m., yet neither of La Salle County’s daily newspapers have anything about it on their Web sites, not even a blurb from The Associated Press. What makes this omission particularly bad for The Times is a top story on its site titled “No injuries in train, vehicle accident.” That story, posted at 7:30 a.m. Monday, is about an Amtrak train collision Friday in downtown Sandwich.

(Full disclosure: I formerly was employed by The Times, which laid me off last November. The newsroom staff is smaller now, but that really is no excuse for not having any semblance of a story on the newspaper’s Web site this long after the fatal accident took place, especially with an AP story available for use.)

UPDATE: The Times finally posted a story about the accident at 11:44 a.m. Tuesday. The other three people in the car were the Rasmusens’ grandchildren, ages 10, 9 and 7, visiting from Bloomington, Ind.

Navy veteran Carl Chapple, 84, of Streator, died Wednesday. He served on two landing craft infantry vessels during World War II; he spent his later years building detailed models of the LCI ships, designing them mostly from memory. I interviewed him in November 2007 for the following story, which originally appeared in The Times.

* * *

Carl Chapple’s desire to build wooden models of the Landing Craft Infantry ships he served on during World War II goes back a lot further than the war.

The Streator resident recalls when a visit to the movie theater cost a dime and his parents gave him 10 cents to entertain himself for the night.

“One time I stayed home from the movies and with my 10 cents I went and built a model airplane instead,” Chapple said. “I’ve been building them ever since.”

Chapple, an avid model builder and a key player in creating the Streator R/C Flyers field, started making LCI models about 10 years ago. From the start, he thought big picture and decided a mere model wouldn’t be enough.

“The first one I built was radio-controlled,” Chapple said. “I ran it up and down the creek at Marilla Park to test it out.”

The skeleton of each model is made mostly of plywood and basswood, fashioned in his basement shop and later detailed wherever there’s room in his house. Chapple has had as many as four models in progress at one time. Each is about three feet long.

“They wonder why I make them so long,” Chapple said. “Well, you want to be able to see them coming a block away.”

As he finishes each one, Chapple takes the models to the Streator Family YMCA to join him for a dip in the pool.

“I go to the YMCA and check them all out there,” Chapple said. “We put them in the water to test their seaworthiness.”

Though he has some old photographs of LCI ships, Chapple designs his models mostly from memory. He served on two LCI ships, the 451 LCI and the 1033 LCI, for about three years total during World War II.

Ship details are aplenty, from moving rudders and a floating lifeboat to gun turrets filled with sliver-thin, removable missiles. He even makes tiny American flags to post atop each ship.

“Every time I do this, I try to do it a little different, add something new, make it better,” Chapple said.

Chapple estimates he has made 30 to 35 LCI ship models in the past decade, but admits he lost count of the exact number. He has built models for former shipmates and for officers of the USS LCI Association.

Every year Chapple makes LCI models that are raffled at the USS LCI Association reunion as a fundraiser for the veterans organization. He once did the same for Flanagan High School.

Chapple clearly puts a lot of time into creating his models, but he isn’t sure exactly how long it takes to make each one.

“I don’t know how long it takes. I don’t punch a clock,” Chapple said. “I just do it because I like doing it.”

Chapple said only two original LCI ships are left in existence, in Eureka and Portland, Ore. But thanks to him, there are a lot more smaller versions of the ships still floating.

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