For most of us, turning 99 would be remarkable. But for 98-year-old Loren Reid, it hardly seems noteworthy.
“I’m not celebrating my 99th birthday,” he said of today’s milestone. “I’ll just push on to 100.”
In fact, he’s not planning to celebrate his 74th wedding anniversary with his wife, Augusta “Gus” Reid, on Saturday, either. They’ll just wait for their 75th.
The Reids, both longtime professors at MU, live in the house they built on Brandon Road in 1950. And, as they have since their children left home decades ago, the Reids live alone. They still drive, go to church and do their own shopping and cooking. Up until last year they still mowed their own lawn.
“Of course, we wouldn’t mow it in one big whoosh,” Loren said.
“He’d mow 20 minutes, then I’d go out and pry him away,” Gus said.
“Pry is a good word,” Loren said. “You could see me struggling with her to keep going.”
Gus was disappointed this year when they no longer could care for the lawn themselves.
“It really annoys me to pay good money to do something I want to do myself,” she said.
This attitude is typical for the Reids, who are slow to let go of anything they enjoy.
“Once they get into something, they’re not likely to stop,” daughter Ellen Reid Gold said.
That explains why Gus, 97, played tennis and water-skied until she was 92. Loren gave up skiing early — at age 89, but continued to drive the boat for his wife, four children, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“My mom would still be water-skiing if the doctor hadn’t made her stop,” Gold said.
Gus, an avid gardener, is still gardening despite undergoing hip-replacement surgery.
“Every time I go home, mother complains that now she has to garden on a footstool and that it’s not nearly as effective as kneeling,” Gold said.
As the Reids approach 100, they are in good company. According to 2000 Census data, the U.S. recorded a 35 percent increase in centenarians since 1990, raising the national total to more than 50,000.
But George Prica, the Reids’ personal physician for the past 15 years, said that a couple living that long, independently, makes them something of an anomaly.
“I’ve never had any patient that made it to their 74th anniversary,” said Prica, a family medicine and geriatrics practitioner.
Gus believes their active lifestyle has contributed to their long and high-quality life. In addition to sports, the Reids have traveled extensively. They spent many summers living and teaching in England, and in 1957 they took a four-month trip to more than 30 countries.
“Our favorites are London, Columbia and everywhere else,” Gus said.
Loren also emphasized the important role modern health care has played in their lives.
“If you have an ailment, they’ve got a new pill that’s just come out,” he said.
“My father says he lived to 70 on his genes and a little red heart pill has kept him alive ever since,” Gold said.
Prica said the Reids have good genes and good habits. Both Gus’ and Loren’s parents lived into their 80s and 90s, and they themselves have stayed slim and active throughout their lives.
Michael Porter, director of Special Degree Programs at MU, said they also have an unusually optimistic outlook on life.
“They are two of the most positively-oriented people I know,” Porter said. “They’ve always been intellectually active and physically active.”
And while what Loren refers to as “natural wear and tear” may have slowed them down physically in recent years, they are as intellectually active as ever.
Loren, who came to MU to teach public speaking in 1935 and served as department chairman from 1946-1951, has authored more than 20 books.
“He’s kind of an icon,” Porter said. “He is one of the grandfathers in terms of national leaders who got the field moving.”
Since his retirement in 1975, Loren continued to attend conferences and give lectures until a few years ago. He continues to write. In 2003, he finished “Reflections II,” a spiral-bound booklet of tidbits that weren’t included in his previous books.
Gus, who taught English at MU for 35 years, is a longtime member of the Missouri Writer’s Guild.
“You must sell your writing to be a member,” Loren proudly explained . “She’s an honorary lifetime member.”
They are computer proficient, and say that e-mail and Internet are an important part of their lives.
“I celebrated my 80th birthday by getting a word processor,” Loren said. “Now I’m on my fourth computer.”
They believe it’s important to keep up with changes of all kinds.
“Something new comes along every minute and you might just as well be open to it,” Gus said. “You wither up soon enough without withering up your mind.”
That’s why they subscribe to numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek, which they usually read cover to cover.
And even though their political views often differ, they still make it a point to vote.
“We never miss an election,” Loren said. “We have a strong feeling that everyone should vote, even though we go to the polls and just cancel each other out.”
Porter remembers Loren’s humorous Christmas letters, especially one in which Loren lamented that he and Gus were finally getting older.
“And this is when he’s 97,” Porter said.