URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – She’s lived through two pandemics, 20 presidents, and more American history than most of us can imagine. Over a century ago, Vivian Forst was born. Saturday, surrounded by family, she celebrated her 111th birthday.
“She’s someone who has gone through so much and is still surviving,” granddaughter Lauren Forst said.
Her family believes she’s the second oldest living person in Illinois – a title that comes with a lot of wisdom.
“Her husband used to say that she could squeeze a nickel so tight that the buffalo would groan. She taught us how to really scrimp and save, that’s for sure,” granddaughter Lisa Linke said.
“Pay yourself first. Save something out of every paycheck,” Vivian Forst said.
That advice came from her father during the Great Depression.
“Men were standing around uptown, on the streets… Nobody was hiring anybody. And if you did, it was just a pittance,” she said.
Her youngest granddaughter, Lauren Forst, said even though they’ve lived very different lives, they’re connected by a few generational parallels. For instance, growing up during the Spanish Flu pandemic.
“They couldn’t go near the door, they would just have to leave the basket as far away as possible… That was their version of social distancing,” she said.
Through all the decades, she said her most vivid memory is working in a high school office, and telling her boss that John F. Kennedy had just been shot.
“He announced, ‘the President has been assassinated.’ And you could hear girls crying all over the study hall. The girls went into tears and the boys were in complete silence,” Vivian Forst said.
But, she said her memory has started to fade and her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Plus, it’s hard to outlive so many loved ones, including her husband – who died in 1953.
“To live that long is to just suffer constant loss. You lose your friends, you lose your independence, you lose a lot of your faculties,” Linke said.
Despite the challenges, her granddaughters say she’s an inspiration.
“She’s been doing everything herself forever. And, you know, she’s been a widow since the 50s. I don’t have the fear to be lonely forever,” Lauren Forst said.