World's oldest man shares memories, wisdom

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Taking out the Model T. Watching Halley's Comet. Living without electricity. These are some moments that have punctuated the life of Walter Breuning, who turned 114 Tuesday.

Breuning celebrated his birthday at Rainbow Senior Living, in Great Falls, MT. Guests of honor included Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT).

Breuning, who has held the Guinness Book of World Records title for oldest man in the world for more than a year, in late August offered reflections on his life. Here they are, courtesy of Ventas, which owns Rainbow Senior Living:

On growing up during World War I:

“It was pretty tough business. You had no choice. You just had to do what was going on.  There were no jobs, and you were just lucky to get a job.  My job on the railroad paid $60 a month and that was a lot of money.”

On the invention of the car:

“We boys would take out the Model T and about every five miles you had to get out and change out the tires, patch them up and pump them up and then off we'd go again.”

On the Great Depression:

“Banks were closing all over the place. There was no money and no jobs. If the war hadn't started, we'd still be in a depression! And my advice: Stay working as long as you can and don't retire too early 'cause you'll find out you need a little more money than what Social Security pays.”

On the most memorable invention:

“Radio and TV are probably the biggest inventions that changed the world. And then in the 1960s the computer made a real difference in how business was done.”

On the most memorable event:

“Halley's Comet, the flash of fire lasted three nights.  People stayed up all night to see the ball of fire going across the sky—that was quite a sight.”

On the secret to a long life:

“I'll tell you one thing is diet. Stay slim and keep that mind and body busy all the time, and you'll find it a darn good thing to do.”

His words of wisdom:

“Be good to everybody, be kind to everybody, and help other people. The more you do for other people, the better you are going to help yourself. Every day is a good day and make it that way.”

Now here's what I want to know: Why do we so cherish the wisdom of centenarians? We all have learned to listen to our elders, but we ascribe a certain kind of magical power to the words of the oldest of the old. I mean I have seen some pretty cool things in my relatively short life. Don't you want to hear my thoughts and suggestions? (No worries. I won't be offended.)

Most likely, we pay attention to this group for the same reason scientists continue to study them. They are extraordinary. Whether it is their genes, their attitudes on life or their diet, they manage to do what most of us can't.

What I find most amazing about some centenarians, like Breuning, is that they have seen the hardest things life can throw at a person, and, yet, they still remain positive. For that reason, Breuning and others have earned my respect.

See Breuning reflect on his life here.

For more on Breuning, click here.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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