If you should survive to 105

Opinion: Columns

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Ellen Plourde

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...Think of all you'll derive just from being alive. Here is the best part, you've got a head start, if you are among the very young at heart.

Paul Soderdahl's birthday is coming up July 10. I am always amazed at the way people respond to Paul when we are out and about OP, but also when they hear how old he is.

On July 10, he'll be 105.

Paul has lived in the same home for 104 years. He worked as a pharmacist for many years in the Austin-Oak Park area. He taught Pharmacy at the college level. In fact, he taught Dr. Elich's father (Peterson's Pharmacy) in pharmacy school.

The Oak Leaves did a story when Paul's father turned 100 in January of 1959. The senior Mr. S. moved to Oak Park in 1887. He was a caretaker at various homes and recalled that one of his employers who lived near the old village hall (Euclid and Lake) pastured cows near his home. He worked as a janitor at the old Oak Park High School (East Avenue and Lake Street), which later became Bishop Quarter Military Academy and now houses the Academy of Movement and Music. He married and bought the house on Humphrey in May of 1907, when Paul was almost a year old. Paul still lives there. All their friends questioned the decision to live "north of Chicago Avenue" because "that's way out in the country. There are no houses there."

Paul continues to live alone, cook his own meals, and be exceptionally friendly and pleasant. He has his weekly grocery shopping trips and his weekly attendance at First United Church is "almost" flawless. Everyone we meet is amazed at his fortitude, but mostly by his extreme pleasantness. He loves the beef barley soup at Erik's Deli and the barbecue beef at Russell's. He is a regular observer of the 4th of July Parade from the corner of Iowa and Ridgeland.

Wednesday Journal did a story about him in 2003 and another on "Ageless Wonders" in 2008. Several years ago, he and I also "co-taught" a Chicago History series at Whittier Elementary. We brought Paul in the last week, as he was a Whittier alumnus. Wednesday Journal also wrote about that.

Paul is the genuine article: kind, loyal, and grateful for every day he has. First United Church traditionally holds a birthday party celebrating their "seniors." This year, it will be held on Paul's birthday, July 10.

Paul has a couple of faithful, loving people in his life: Jane Lare, who drives him to church; Lee Brooke, a faithful friend; Kip Plourde and his partner, Sandra Cornejo, who do countless things for him, and myself. Though Kip and I are no longer married, we both consider him part of our family, and our young adult children see him as their grandfather in every way. Lee Brooke, over the last couple of years, added some biographical pieces to a book idea he was working on, about centenarians in our villages.

Considering the reception Paul gets everywhere we go, his story is one that never gets old!

Reader Comments

19 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Ellen Plourde from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2012 1:22 PM

Pauline, Jane was a very special friend to Paul. She had even brought over an early birthday celebration cake for Paul, since she knew she'd be out of town on his 106th birthday. She was a very faithful friend. We will miss her very much, but feel very lucky that we got to know her.

Pauline Theodore from San Diego, CA  

Posted: July 22nd, 2012 12:41 PM

I had heard or Paul through Jane Lare. She had spoken of him many times. I was her traveling partner for the ISPA conf. which she missed due to her sudden death the day she was to leave for Montreal and meet me there. She never showed up and it was a shock to all that knew her. She was an amazing lady and I know that Paul will miss her.

Christianne from Ft. Worth  

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 2:31 PM

Happy Birthday, Uncle Paul!! Wish I could have been there to celebrate with you. 105 is a wonderful accomplishment! This is a lovely article about you. I am delighted that you are doing well. Lots of love to you! Your great-niece, Christianne

Joan Soderdahl from Sugar Grove, IL   

Posted: July 17th, 2011 2:37 PM

Happy Birthday Paul. I am the Mom of the other Paul Soderdahl living in Iowa City and on staff at the University of Iowa. My husband was Don, the son of Oscar Soderdahl who farmed in Batavia and lived in Aurora. You are blest to have such a wonderful life. Happy Birthday!

O P Resident  

Posted: July 12th, 2011 6:18 PM

One must wonder why all these nice folks moved out of Oak Park? Clearly Paul stayed for the long haul.

Darby from Portland, OR  

Posted: July 12th, 2011 5:22 PM

Not sure why I decided to look him up today, but I'm so delighted to find he's still doing well. We, too, lived on that block of Humphrey, and remember Mr. Soderdahl's energy, smile, cookies, and cherry pie. Belated Happy Birthday!

Grace Martin from Aurora, Ill  

Posted: July 9th, 2011 11:35 PM

Mr. Soderdahl and his wife Vivian were the best neighbors for a young family with kids. Our girls were two and three when we moved next door and they would wave to the Soderdahls from the windows. As our family grew with the two boys, we'd all be invited for cookie and milk parties. Mr. S always has been very neighborly, snow-blowing our walks, loaning tools, making us cookies. He still keeps in touch even though we've moved away after living next door for 29 years. You're the best Mr. S!!!

Mark Briggs from Keller, TX  

Posted: July 7th, 2011 7:35 AM

What a fantastic tribute for such an inspirational person! Happy 105th Uncle Paul! We love you very much! Mark, Laurie, Marlee & Hudson

Norma Barnard from Lombard Il  

Posted: July 7th, 2011 6:59 AM

Happy Birthday Mr. Soderdahl. We are so happy to have you as part of our family. Holidays & Birthdays, Children & Adults all enjoy your company & Chocolate chip cookies. We always love to hear how Oak Park was when you were a boy and how it has changed over the years. What a blessing you are.

Laurel from Westchester, IL  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 3:05 PM

Happy Birthday, Mr. Soderdahl! I lived next door to Mr. Soderdahl for 21 years -- when we were kids he and his wife would often invite us over for homemade cookies. I have many childhood memories of Mr. S -- always so kind and happy. What an example he is to all of us!

Guy Briggs from Dallas, TX  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 1:15 PM

Great article about a great guy! Since Uncle Paul has forgotten more than I think I'll ever know, I'm going to assume that he knows computers too and will be reading this. So here's a big Texas Happy Birthday to you, Uncle Paul!

Paul and Elisabeth Jacobsen from Oak Park  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 12:16 PM

Our family too have been fortunate to have Mr. S in our lives for many years. He still regularly shows up for family functions, always with a kind greeting and his famous chocolate chip cookies. We all think of him as a loved member of our family, and feel blessed to have him in our lives.

Judy Kern from Downers Grove  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 12:12 PM

Unle Paul has been a part of my life for over 60 years ...and during that time he has remained steadfast in his dedication to family, his abiding faith, and his kindness to everyone. His varied interests and sharp mind are an inspiration to all .... I look at all that we have derived by his being alive and in our hearts and lives over the years. Happy 105th!

Pam Briggs from Houston, Texas  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 10:59 AM

Everyone I know has heard about my Uncle Paul. He gave me away at my wedding to my wonderful husband Phil, and has been an inspiration to both of us. He is loving, kind, unselfish with the highest standards of ethics possible. He always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. We love him dearly and are so happy to have had him to look up to for all these years. Happy 105th birthday Uncle Paul!

Rhoda Bernstein from Oak Park  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 10:45 AM

Paul is an amazing and wonderful man, not just for living a long life but for how he has lived that life, filled with kindness and decency. My family has been blessed to have Paul Soderdahl for our neightbor for over 30 years.

Michelle Martin Perez from Westchester, IL  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 10:45 AM

I lived next to Mr.Soderdahl growing up. He always remembered my birthday and I would get a card with money in it. Once I made him a birthday card, also with money in it, he found me later and presented me with a hand full of change, because the money I had given him had grown. Always a warm, generous and friendly man. Happy Birthday Mr. Soderdahl!

Ken Black from Warrenville, IL  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 8:04 AM

I lived two doors down from Mr. S on Humphrey for my first 30 years. He would dutifully plow half the block's snow with his snowblower after every snowfall. This was when he was in his mid-70s! He would often walk with his spry, fast pace, over to Chicago Ave to pick up some items at some of the stores, and without fail would say hello to myself or others on the street. I'm sure part of the secret to his long life is kindness to others and a sunny disposition. Happy Birthday, Mr. Soderdahl!

David Martin from Aurora  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 8:00 AM

We lived next door to Paul Soderdahl for about thirty years. He has aged with dignity and grace and independence. One of the last time my wife and I visited Paul he did not answer the door so we went around back. He was on his knees doing gardening in the back yard. He is always thoughtful and I have never heard an unkind or critical statement from him. I still remember Vivian, his wife of almost 50 years.

Ellen Plourde  

Posted: July 6th, 2011 7:58 AM

Thanks for posting this. Paul is such a wonderful person. Here's a link to the "Ageless Wonders" article: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/05-27-2008/Ageless_wonders

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