Ohope’s Monica Andersen celebrated her 104th birthday with her husband by her side this week.
“I don’t feel any different,” Monica says of her incredible milestone.
The centenarian enjoyed her birthday with a cake at Ohope Beach Care, where she has lived since she was 99. Also at her party were her 97-year-old husband Ivan and two of her children, Lynette Richardson and Rosemary Childress, and her granddaughter, Gina Robinson.
Lynette says her mum still does very well.
“She is still walking and is the oldest in the rest home … she is the oldest person most of them have ever known, which is remarkable really,” she says.
Although Monica cannot see very well anymore, she does love to listen to music on her cassette player, and has wide-ranging tastes, from instrumental to Simon and Garfunkel.
She also likes to attend church services at the rest home.
Lynette says her mum was also celebrating another amazing milestone; December 27 was her and her husband Ivan’s 75th wedding anniversary.
She says her 97-year-old father still lives independently in his own home in Whakatane.
“He gets only one hour of help a day. Most of the time he does his own shopping and cooking, although he doesn’t drive anymore.”
She says it is hard to find a reason for her mum’s longevity as she “was the delicate one in the family”.
Monica, whose four surviving children range in age from 62 to 72, was one of eight siblings who grew up in Opunaki, Taranaki. She has only one younger surviving brother.
Lynette says her parents were married in 1941, but there was an amusing tale behind their nuptials.
“My father had joined the army and was in a military camp. Then Pearl Harbour happened and all their leave was cancelled. My father went AWOL to get married.”
She says the family home was high up on the slopes of Mt Taranaki where her father operated a sawmill and farmed some sheep and cows. Because the farm was so isolated no one was lost in the Spanish ‘flu epidemic.
Because there were not enough horses for the children to ride to school for a time, Monica went to boarding school at the convent in Opunaki and, unusually for girls at that time, she continued on to high school in Manaia.
Monica met her husband when he was employed to split posts on the family farm, and after getting married, they went on to have five children. Their eldest son died in a motorcycle accident the day before he was to turn 19.
They settled in Rotorua in 1953 when work was concentrated on forest clearing, dam building and road construction. You cannot enter Whakatane without driving over a road Ivan had a hand in shaping.
Monica was also a keen cook and dressmaker. But her greatest love was gardening. She had an enormous vegetable garden, but flowers were her passion. She would spend hours in the garden battling the enemy oxalis. There was always a vase of fresh flowers on the dining room table.
The couple moved to Whakatane in 1984 to retire. Failing health means Monica has lived in the Ohope Care Lodge since 2012. She is still alert and is proud that she is still walking but she has eyesight and hearing problems.
The Andersens have 10 grandchildren, six of whom live in the Whakatane district and four great grandchildren, also in Whakatane.