Lillian Wilson has a marvelous way of keeping Trinity Homes staff on their toes. For example, Social Services Director Shelly Swearson spent time with her recently and shared this anecdote: “I said when I was leaving, that the staff would be in to check on her. She said, ‘How big is the check’?”
At 109, Lillian is thought to be the second oldest nursing home resident in North Dakota. “We checked with the North Dakota Long Term Care Association,” Swearson said. “They told us there was a woman at a nursing home in Northwood who is 114, which makes Lillian the second oldest.”
A resident at Trinity Homes since 2008, Lillian has been an active member of the community, taking part in resident activities, church circles, and other groups. She’s best known for her wry sense of humor. “She always likes to joke around,” Swearson said. “She’s full of one-liners.”
Asked how she has managed to live so long, Lillian displayed that humor. “I guess somebody needed me for something,” she said.
Ruth Puttre, Lillian’s niece, says one of her one-liners is, “My forgetter keeps getting better.” Her memory has served her well over the years, however. “Though her memory is fading, she always asks about the family and what we are doing,” Ruth said. “It’s important to her to remember to name us all. And how about all the students she encountered during her 42 years of
Born in 1909 on farm north of Minot, she was the oldest of three siblings born to Adam and Anna Wilson. (She and her two brothers, now deceased, all attended college – an achievement in those days.)
The family moved to Aneta after the father died in 1918 during the flu epidemic. They moved back to Minot in 1925, and Lillian enrolled as a sophomore at Minot High School. After graduation, she obtained her teaching certificate and began teaching in rural schools in North Dakota. In 1936, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education.
A project by the Minot Commission on the Status of Women* documenting women’s experiences contains a 1985 interview with Lillian, in which she shares memories of her early teaching days. Salaries ranged from 50 to 80 dollars per month, and the jobs were challenging. She recalls the years during World War II when students were impacted by “war nerves” and educators in her district were assigned the job of registering community members for rationing tickets.
In 1947, she began what would become her second career – enrolling in a library science program in Denver. Later, she earned her masters degree in library science. She was a librarian for 11 years at Minot High School and nine years at Minot State University. She also did library work at Valley City State University.
After her retirement, Lillian put her library training to work on a volunteer basis, setting up the library at Vincent United Methodist Church, where she’s been active for many years.
“Lillian has struggled with her sight over the years and would say she is a librarian who can’t read!” Ruth adds.
While it’s always impossible to pinpoint the reason for anyone’s longevity, in Lillian’s case there is a comment from her Commission on the Status of Women interview that may provide a clue.
“We grew up without an automobile,” she said. “My mother had sold the car when we left the farm, so we’ve all been walkers.”