“Hard work,” Jennie Buchte likes to say, “never killed anyone.”
Maybe it’s the work ethic she developed doing chores on the family farm that accounts for Buchte’s long life.
Perhaps it’s her Roman Catholic faith. Or maybe it’s good genes.
Buchte turns 107 today and plans to celebrate the milestone quietly, with a carry-out dinner from Solomon’s Seafood & Grille with her niece and nephew at Southmont of Presbyterian SeniorCare.
Buchte has much in common with her fellow centenarians: she follows a healthy diet (lots of fruits and vegetables), she doesn’t drink or smoke and, other than arthritis and back surgery she underwent decades ago, she’s enjoyed good health. And, like most people who live more than 100 years, she is optimistic and spiritual, and she laughs a lot.
She has her own theory about longevity.
“I believe in the Lord. Period. That’s my secret,” said Buchte, spry and impeccably dressed in a charcoal-colored sweater and slacks, her gray hair neatly curled.
Buchte was born in Alabama in 1906, when Theodore Roosevelt was president. Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska weren’t yet states. Penicillin hadn’t been discovered.
The third oldest of 14 children, Buchte never married, devoting her life instead to her work.
“The most important thing for me was work. Work and family,” said Buchte. She has outlived all but one of her siblings, but maintains close relationships with her nieces and nephews.
She worked on the family farm in Washington until she was 15, pitching in with the cows, chickens, ducks and pigs and tending the large vegetable garden.
Later, she worked at the Duncan & Miller Glass Co. for 13 years. In between, she spent time as a housekeeper for local doctors, earning $3 a week – and often waking up at 3 a.m. to make biscuits for the wife of one of the doctors.
When she lost her job at the glass company, Buchte moved to New Jersey, where she was hired as an inspector for Westinghouse Co. and excelled at her job in quality control. After work, Buchte and a group of friends often went into New York City, where they skated at Rockefeller Center, watched the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or grabbed a bite to eat at the Empire State Building restaurant.
“She’s special,” said Linda Hindes, Buchte’s niece. “We all felt like she was our role model when we were growing up. Aunt Jennie was an independent woman. She always took care of herself, she traveled, she was very Cosmopolitan. She was ahead of her time.”
And she never forgot to send a birthday card and money to all of her nieces and nephews on their birthdays; she often sent gifts accompanying the cards.
To keep in touch with her family after she moved to New Jersey, Buchte wrote five or six letters a week.
She worked at several electronics companies in New Jersey over the next three decades, until she retired at the age of 72.
“The company I was working for closed and nobody wanted to hire a 72-year-old lady, so that was the end of work for me,” she said.
She moved back to Washington County when she was 88, settling into a tidy home in South Strabane Township.
Until she hit 105, Buchte lived by herself. She cooked, cleaned and did her own laundry.
Her former neighbor, Melinda Bennett, said Buchte would call her on the telephone to tell her she had made cookies for Bennett’s two children.
“She’s amazing. She’s so independent, and she never wants to ask anyone for help,” said Bennett. “She has a very positive outlook on life.”
Buchte reads the newspaper and watches the news every day (she doesn’t wear glasses). She voted for Barack Obama, favors gun control and is praying for Pope Francis.
Buchte finds happiness in each day and inspires the staff and residents who see her walking with aides or wheeling through the hallways in her wheelchair every day.
“I have to keep exercising, I need to keep working,” she says, proud of her strong arms and firm grip.
And while she enjoys sharing memories (like the times she and her sister climbed out their bedroom window and rode the trolley to Canonsburg, where they would go dancing and return to their beds before their parents awoke), Buchte prefers to look forward.
“Time marches on. Things change,” said Buchte. “Just live a good, clean life.”