Ruth Haugen's birthday wish is simple and optimistic.
"Continue living," said the Missoula woman, who celebrates her 100th birthday on Tuesday at the same unassuming white house on South Third Street where she has lived for the past 70 years. The bushes in the front yard are the same ones planted by her mother decades ago.
Haugen's skin is still smooth with few wrinkles. (Lotion, she says.) Her eyes are still as blue as ever. She's deaf in one ear, but has been since she was young. Her daily pill intake consists of thyroid medication - which she's taken many, many years - and medicine to control her blood pressure. At home, she still gets around using a walker.
Healthy eating habits, exercise of the body and mind, and an appreciation for the small things in life helped Haugen reach the century point. And probably good genes, too. Her mother died three months shy of her 100th birthday.
Haugen has never been much of a conversationalist. So the attention and questions that come with reaching the 100-year benchmark are "silly," she said.
Centenarians are historians. Their wisdom is something others desire, especially regarding the secrets to a long life. And yet, on Haugen's side table is Dan Buettner's book, "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest."
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Why is Haugen reading a book she could be contributing to? She just chuckles.
"You can't tell someone how to live," said Haugen, dressed in a brilliant white sweater with pearls draped around her neck. She talks in short sentences, thinking carefully before speaking. "You just live."
According to the 2000 Census, 162 centenarians live in Montana. That number is expected to soar to 3,000 by 2025, said Brian LaMoure of the state agency on aging. Montana is supposed to have one of the highest populations per capita of people age 65 and older - and Montanans age 85 and older are one of the fastest-growing population groups.
Why the state's population is growing older is not easily explained, but LaMoure said it is likely attributable to Montanans' healthy lifestyles, the aging baby boomer generation and the numbers of people retiring here.
In fact, Montana is home to the oldest man in America. Walter Breuning, of Great Falls, turned 112 in September.
Each year, the state collects names of centenarians to send them a proclamation that celebrates their long lives. It's not a complete list, but in 2008, the state delivered 68 such documents to centenarians statewide.
Now Haugen joins this elite group.
At age 14, she moved from Choteau to Missoula with her family so the seven children - five girls and two boys - could eventually attend the university.
Haugen earned an English degree from the University of Montana in 1927, and then a master's degree from Columbia University in New York City in 1939. She studied nutrition, and eventually worked for more than a decade at UM as a nutritionist.
Haugen never married and had no children of her own, but her entire life was devoted to raising her mentally disabled nephew, Bob Haugen. At 11, Bob came to live with Haugen. She cared for him until she was 93 years old.
Haugen occupied her days reading books. She has an extensive library collection on brain development
Anymore, when Haugen goes outdoors, she always comments on the number of cars that now crowd Missoula streets, said Patricia Cloud, Haugen's legal representative. She marvels at the new buildings on the UM campus and how the city has grown over the years.
Yet, Haugen is perfectly content watching the world out her front window. The cars passing. The seasons changing. Haugen is a birdwatcher. And even after living in the same house for seven decades, she pauses outside her living room each day to admire its splendor.
"It's just breathtaking," she said.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.