Virginia Cooper’s smile lit up her face as family members filed into Heritage Woods on Tuesday and gave her a hug, one by one.
“Happy birthday, Grandma!” was repeated again and again as they greated the centenarian dressed in bright colors, including a hot pink cardigan and matching sparkling earrings.
“What did I do to deserve all this?” wondered aloud Cooper, who is known as Peg, during a birthday celebration in the dining room of the Ottawa assisted-living facility. In honor of turning 100 years old, she was presented with certificates and cards from local and state officials, as well as the president, a U.S. flag flown over the state Capitol and a key to the city.
“It’s a key to the city, and it’s a key to our hearts,” said Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach after pointing out that both he and the 1937 graduate are Ottawa High School alumni.
“It doesn’t seem possible that I can be that old,” Cooper said.
The diehard Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bulls fan, who will miss watching a game only to play cards (preferably euchre), said the key to her longevity is being on the go.
“Stay active and keep busy. Don’t stay in your room all day.”
Katy Hauser, Cooper’s oldest of three children, attributes her mother’s long life, most of which was spent on a Lostant farm with her late husband Clifford, to her diet.
“They grew their own garden. They had their own beef and didn’t eat processed foods. That’s part of her longevity,” Hauser said.
Speaking of food, folks in Lostant may know Cooper for the pies she baked for the Villiage Inn.
“She was the best pie maker. Everyone wanted one of Peg’s pies,” said Cooper’s daughter, Karen Breckenridge, of Lostant. A couple of Cooper’s six grandchildren said there were always pies at family gatherings.
When asked how many great-grandchildren she has, Cooper chuckled and said “lots,” adding that with a recent birth there are now six great-great-grandchildren.
Between her growing family, holidays, milestones and celebrations, Cooper said she likes to look to the future rather than the past. “I always have somthing to live for,” she said.
That said, Cooper does seem to long for a simpler time regarding one technilogical advance: smartphones.
“I don’t like them,” she said with a puckered mouth and wrinkled nose. She thinks people should spend more time interracting with each other instead of looking at their hand-held devices.
As for social media, the closest thing she had was a party line.
“The neighbors could all listen,” she said of the wooden telephone with the hand crank. “So you had to be careful what you said!”
On Sunday, 68 of Cooper’s relatives traveled from six states and throughout Illinois to celebrate the birth of this woman who is described by family and friends as “bubbly.”
“She’s been a great example. She is always on the go,” said Cooper’s oldest grandchild, Brenda Othick, of Crystal Lake. “I always say, ‘When I grow up I want to be like her.’ ”