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Barry Schrader


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Never too old to keep enjoying life

By Barry Schrader.................................February 25, 2009

Hazel Swanberg turns 106 next Tuesday and has lots of memories to share, plus some advice on how you can enjoy being that age.

“I make up my mind each morning that it is going to be a happy day and something good is going to happen. I don’t look at the dark side – I try to make everybody happy and have a compliment for those around me in the health center,” says Hazel who has been at the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center since the first year it opened.
Her “guardian angel,” Karen Buck from Sycamore, who has visited her every Thursday for the past 18 years, concurs that she is a cheerful person and “an easy lady to like.” Karen relates a story Hazel told from back about 1920 when Hazel began teaching in country school after a year at the Northern Illinois State Normal School. “Hazel’s father Ward Landers would heat up bricks in the cookstove and wrap them in a blanket before they hitched up her one-horse buggy so she could head off to country school with a foot warmer on those cold winter mornings.” She had 18 kids ranging from first through eighth grade and could teach them every subject.”

Hazel Swanberg sits in her apartment at the health center of Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center in DeKalb, showing off the milk can with a painting depicting her late husband and his favorite horse, the last reminder of her farm life near Lily Lake. (Photo by Barry Schrader - Daily Chronicle )

Hazel was born 03-03-1903 on the family dairy farm, but her father also held a job during the school year as a teacher and then principal in Hinckley. He had married one of his older students named Ida who was about eight years his junior. Hazel recalls he was very well read and loved to relax by doing dramatic readings. That’s probably where she got her talent and took part in skits for many years at Oak Crest. In fact Karen first met her by designing a costume for her in a production called “Hard-Hearted Hannah.”

She met her future husband Everett at a community club social when he was high bidder on her picnic basket of goodies, which meant they got to eat together. He ran the family dairy farm near Lily Lake and she moved there to become a dairyman’s wife. But she kept up her teaching at schools in Lily Lake, Elburn and Plato Center for more than 30 years. Even after she retired to Oak Crest, she was asked to tutor children in DeKalb, which she did. After teaching a full day, she returned to the 100-head dairy farm and had to fix meals for the two hired men and her family. She said she always had a big vegetable garden, apple and pear trees, so canning was a part of the annual ritual, putting up foodstuffs for the winter.

Talking about what she enjoys doing today, she said chatting with other residents, maintaining a daily exercise regimen by walking through the halls and watching television to occupy her time. She remarked that she spent the entire day on January 20th watching President Barack Obama’s inauguration. “I think he is going to be a wonderful president. He has the brains – very brilliant.”
Looking around her room I spotted a decorated milk can and found out it is the only remaining artifact from home that she has kept all this time. That milk can, she explained, was one of many her husband shipped to Chicago each day. She had someone paint a picture of her husband and his favorite blue roan as a memory of their days on the farm.

She doesn’t want any fuss made over her birthday as there was a party last year in her honor, but mentioned she does like chocolate. And if you happen to have a spare birthday card around the house I am sure Hazel would be delighted to receive a few. Her address is 2944 Greenwood Acres Drive, DeKalb 60115

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115