This week has been declared Seniors’ Week in Alberta. One of Stettler’s ageless seniors, Gertie Savage, is going strong, two months shy of her 101st birthday.
Savage has more experience at being a senior than most. Born on Aug. 9, 1911, she was one of 13 children born to Hank and Edith Lattery on their homestead near Red Willow.
“Red Willow was a big town then and Stettler was small compared to now,” Savage said.
More remarkable than her age is how active Savage remains in her advanced years. She continues to live on her farm near Stettler, where she enjoys tending to her garden and numerous flower beds.
“You don’t just sit around and think about getting old — you just go to work,” Savage revealed about her secret to such longevity.
Savage was never afraid of work, from helping out with farm chores as a child, to the duties of a farm wife, to working in her vegetable and flower gardens today, as well as cooking meals for herself and longtime friend Archie Smith, she has always kept busy.
As one would expect, Savage has had many experiences in her 100 years, though many are not exactly typical of what you might expect from a woman from her era.
Savage grew up as a tom-boy, more interested in helping her father with farm chores than doing household duties with her mother.
When you hear her chuckle and see that twinkle in her eye, you know she has just thought of another good story to share.
“We used to put on the big boxing gloves and box at school during recess,” Savage said.
Boxing was a popular sport in the area at that time. Savage later took a try at women’s boxing, becoming the local champ. Being undefeated, a top boxer was brought in from Edmonton for a match, “but she didn’t last a round.”
Her boxing experience came in handy in later years. When a fellow got rowdy at her place and wouldn’t leave, she gave him a punch to the face and sent him sailing. The poor fellow suffered a broken jaw as a result.
Savage enjoyed other sports, too, playing basketball and softball.
“Nobody had gloves, but the pitcher and the catcher,” recalled Savage, a catcher, of the game back then.
“You should have seen them,” she laughed. “They were as flat as a pancake.”
Girls weren’t allowed to enter in rodeo events at that time, but that didn’t stop Savage and her girlfriend. They dressed as boys and entered in the steer-riding competition at the Stettler rodeo, anyway.
On a later occasion, Savage entered in the wildcow-milking competition at Stettler with Earl and Muff Doan, “and there I was, in an orange dress,” she remembered.
Savage’s rough and tumble ways came with consequences. “I haven’t got a finger that hasn’t been broke,” she said.
In 1935, she married Hector Savage. Their only time away from the Stettler area was when the young couple lived at Smithers, B.C., for a few years. Their only child, Betty, was born in 1936 while they lived there.
While in Smithers, the adventurous Savage was a jockey and rode a winning horse.
“You learn a lot when you jockey,” Savage said, though she wasn’t pleased with how the horses were treated, so she left that occupation behind.
Back on the farm at Stettler, Savage helped out with the harvest — stooking, threshing and hauling grain from the threshing machine to the elevator. She shovelled grain in the granaries to make more room.
“That was terrible dusty, dirty work,” she said.
She also raised hogs, tended a garden, gathered eggs and milked cows.
“We lived off the cream cheques,” Savage said.
Her husband died in 1960, at the age of 49.
In 1961, Savage’s nephew, Jim Lattery, put the crop in.
Lattery’s friend, Archie Smith, also came the same year to live as a boarder.
“I’ve been here ever since,” Smith said.
Lattery went away to work the following year, and for the next 18 years Smith did the farming.
In 1980, the farm was rented out, and Smith went back to work with the County of Stettler, where he had a total career of 25 years. Smith, who will be 80 in August, helps Savage out with the heavy work around the yard.
Smith was an avid ball player in his younger years, later playing seniors’ slo-pitch, and Savage was a No. 1 fan. They still enjoy watching local ball games and visiting with the friends they met through the game.
Savage is an ultimate sports fan, and her all-time hero is Wayne Gretzky, or No. 99, as she calls him.
When Savage celebrated her 99th birthday, she invited Gretzky to her celebration, because then she was 99, too. He was unable to attend, but did send a framed, autographed photo of himself, with a plaque that had the following inscription, “Passing 99 on to Gertie,” which is proudly displayed in her home.
Savage said the biggest change she has seen in her 100 years is related to money.
“There is more money now,” she said. “There was no money back then. You had to work months to save enough to buy a pair of shoes.”
Savage’s daughter, Betty, and her husband, Dean Strangway of Spruce Grove, have given her three grandsons, six great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. She is proud of her family and looks forward to their visits.
Savage believes she has been fortunate to have had good health, enabling her to live such a long and active life.
“I lived my life as I wanted — independent,” she said of her 100 colourful years.
LES STULBERG, Independent reporter