'Good, honest living' contributes to longevity

SEAN D. ELLIOT/THE DAY Anna Richard Holzl at Orchard Grove Specialty Care in Uncasville on Nov. 26. Holzl recently turned 108, making her the eldest of a small group of centenarians at the facility.
SEAN D. ELLIOT/THE DAY Anna Richard Holzl at Orchard Grove Specialty Care in Uncasville on Nov. 26. Holzl recently turned 108, making her the eldest of a small group of centenarians at the facility.

Norwich native Anna Richard Holzl was born in a country of just 45 states, at a time when the longest airplane flight was 39 minutes and Einstein had only recently introduced the special theory of relativity to the world.

Now, the 108-year-old's family says she's the oldest resident in her Uncasville nursing home. They gathered to celebrate Holzl's birthday on Nov. 17 at Orchard Grove Specialty Care, where she continues to thrive in a very different world.

The twice-widowed woman was born when Theodore Roosevelt was president and lived through two World Wars. She experienced the Jazz Age and prohibition in her late teens and 20s, and spent early adulthood in the Great Depression. Her generation was one of the first in which women were eligible to vote: the 19th amendment passed in 1920, and Holzl turned 21 in 1926.

But Holzl isn't terribly interested in recalling the monumental historical events of her lifetime, preferring to discuss her own experiences with family and friends.

A farm girl who ended up travelling across the world, Holzl said she never thought she would end up in a nursing home. She's only been living there a few months, after leaving an assisted living apartment in Norwich when a fall sent her to the hospital.

But she said Orchard Grove is "home-like," with friendly staff and decent food, so she doesn't complain too much. When she's lonely, she can visit her childhood friend, 104-year-old Mary Martin, who also lives in the nursing home.

Holzl, her siblings and, later, her children were born in a Norwich farmhouse, and she described her childhood there as "way out in the country." The only way she found out about what was going on in the world, said Holzl, was by reading the Norwich Bulletin.

As a girl, she planted vegetables and flowers and helped out with other farm tasks. She recalled that one of her tasks was to stand in the loft of the barn, pushing bales of hay to the back of the loft and adding more as they were handed up by her siblings - a job she felt was too boring to be mentioned in a newspaper article.

Martin lived near Holzl when they were children, and the two refer to each other as "distant cousins" because of their shared ethnic heritage - Martin's grandparents came to the U.S. from Hungary, as did Holzl's parents.

The "cousins" shared many trips overseas, traveling to places like Japan, Germany and Shanghai. Holzl said she really enjoyed those vacations, during which the two would fly overseas and take tours through an agency that offered them for a "very reasonable" price.

Holzl said she doesn't think similar tours, offering tickets covering all the trip's expenses, exist today. Holzl did most of her travelling in the 1970s and 1980s - while working in the kitchen at the former Uncas-on-Thames Hospital and after her retirement from that position.

"I've enjoyed life because there was a lot to see," said Holzl.

Although she travelled to many places, Holzl spent most of her life living in Norwich. She did move to Florida with her daughter for several years, but came back to eastern Connecticut seven years ago after her daughter's death.

Holzl proudly proclaimed that she's lived so long because of "good, honest living."

By that, she means that she "didn't do anything I had to be ashamed of" and "didn't have any bad habits." Holzl said she never drank or smoked, and her daughter-in-law said the woman even refused to have a glass of wine at a wedding.

Holzl's son, Larry Richard, and his wife often check up on Holzl at Orchard Grove. Last month, they brought along cupcakes, punch and a few relatives to celebrate Holzl's 108th year.

Even though she never pictured herself in a nursing home, Holzl seems content.

"I couldn't ask for more," she said, smiling.

K.CATALFAMO@THEDAY.COM

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