From the standpoint of years alone, one resident of The Baptist Home in Arcadia Valley outranks every other senior citizen in Missouri.
Jewell Stehlik celebrated her 111th birthday at The Baptist Home on Oct. 25 and holds the distinction of being the oldest person in the Show-Me State. By all accounts, The Arcadia Valley facility might as well pencil in her birthday on calendars for the next few years.
At 111, Jewell appears to be going strong. During a Nov. 2 interview, she was articulate and demonstrated a keen sense of humor. And she still recalls memories that date back 100 years and longer.
The Baptist Home's staffers believe Jewell is the 35th oldest person in the United States and the 51st oldest in the world. That places her in a pretty select group. The Cave Springs, Kan., native is obviously from hardy stock – she didn't move to The Baptist Home until two days before her 97th birthday. That was 14 years ago.
The folks at the Boston School of Medicine know about her. They recruited her to participate in a study of people of advanced age. Jewell granted permission for them to have access to her medical records and authorized blood samples to be sent to them, too.
Items in her room hint strongly at one of her abilities and interests. A couple of accordions are visible, regular reminders of a life of music that began at age 5 — 106 years ago — when she began playing the pipe organ. Administrators at The Home say she continued to play the organ, piano, mandolin and accordion until a few years ago. In fact, she played the organ at her 103rd birthday celebration.
Jewell is often asked to divulge the secret to her longevity. She says she tries to be good-natured and "I don't carry a grudge. And I had a good husband for 54 years." On other occasions she has attributed her long years to "never worrying about anything and loving the good Lord."
Plus, she drinks a lot of coffee, acknowledging that she couldn't function nearly as well without it.
When she was in her early 20s, Jewell's grandparents picked out a young man they felt would be a suitable husband, and the couple became engaged.
"We went out with my girlfriend and her boyfriend," Jewell recalled. "But we got switched around," she added with a laugh, and she wound up with her girlfriend's date, Bill Stehlik.
"I married the right one," she quipped.
Bill was a railroader and worked for the Rock Island line. "I worked for the Santa Fe," Jewell recalled. She worked as a stenographer for the railroad, a law office and a real estate firm. She registered men for the draft during World War I. Her brother was killed in that war.
"I went from grade school and straight to business school," she said. "I skipped high school."
"I'm a music nut," she admits. When she began playing the organ, she played by ear.
Before she came to The Home, Jewell lived in Camdenton and was a member of First Baptist Church there.
For 16 years, she, Bill and 10 other musicians traveled and performed as the Mell-O-Dies, playing at political rallies, state fairs, nursing homes and wherever else they were invited. Bill had a great voice and led the singing. As for Jewell, "I can't sing; I never could sing."
When asked about her childhood, Jewell responded, "I could run like a deer."
She also remembers a bittersweet relationship with a pet when she was a girl. Her father gave her a pet pig, she said. They were inseparable. "We got in trouble all the time," she admitted.
She will never forget when her father loaded her pet on the back of a truck to take it to market. Until then, she hadn't realized that was part of the deal. "He sold my pig," she said. As she watched the truck pull away, "I was crying – and I believe that pig was crying, too!"
When asked if she recalled the name of her pet, Jewell paused. "I know I gave him a real funny name, but I can't think of it right now."
Then, without skipping a beat, she added, "I'll probably think of it right after you leave."
Jewell is grateful for The Baptist Home, calling it a place with a great atmosphere. "It is a very comfortable place to live," she said. As for the food, "It's good unless they try to feed you sauerkraut and fish!"
As Christmas approaches, Jewell has already requested a single gift, Arcadia Valley administrator Sherri Snyder said.
"I want a harmonica," Jewell said, noting she already has three. It is the only instrument she still plays.
Perhaps she'll try out the new one at her 112th birthday bash.