Originally Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2013, 10:09 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 16, 2013, 2:00 pm

104 years provide pearls of wisdom for Bettendorf woman

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Wells Elementary School second-grader Nevaeh Robinson-Cunningham raises her hand while 104-year-old Pearl Winter, Bettendorf, looks at Winter's birthday card on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The card read "I hope you have a great birthday, it's cool you're 104 years old, happy birthday."
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Pearl Winter recalls her 104 years to children at Wells Elementary School in East Moline, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The kids in the elementary school made 104 cards for her birthday on Feb. 13.

EAST MOLINE -- A kindergartner at Wells Elementary School was asked how many birthdays she had celebrated.

"Six," the little girl answered.

Then she and her classmates turned their attention to a special guest who was visiting and were told, "She's had 104 birthdays."

When Pearl Winter --''yes, just like the season," she said -- told students she was born Feb. 13, 1909, kids responded with a loud chorus of ''wows" and "ohs."

Classes of kindergarten, first-, second- and third-graders pooled their talents and resources to make Ms. Winter 104 birthday cards, which were delivered earlier in the week in time for her birthday.

"But the kids were interested in meeting her," librarian Sarah Link said.

"I heard you wanted to see what a 104-year-old woman looks like," Ms. Winter said. "Well, here I am. Take a good look at me. I even got my face on today," she said, referring to her makeup.

Ms. Link's grandmother, Doreen McGuire, 82, lives in the same apartment complex -- Luther Knoll in Bettendorf, where Ms. Winter resides.

"And my boys had met her before," Ms. Link said. "That's how we became aware of her birthday."

"And Luther Knoll's not assisted living," Ms. Winter's daughter, Doris McFarland, 83, quickly pointed out. "Mother's still taking care of herself."

"But the old gray mare ain't what she used to be," Ms. Winter said jokingly.

"I had never seen a 104-year-old person before," third-grader Summer Perkins, 8, said.

"It's amazing," classmate Larbi Moukhlis, 9, said. "This is incredible. It was fascinating to hear how she lived and what her school was like."

"But hearing she didn't have television when she was young sounded pretty boring," Summer added.

Ms. Winter answered many questions from her young crowd, explaining how she grew up on a farm in North Liberty, Iowa, and went to school in a one-room country schoolhouse.

"And when mother was younger, there were no cars," Ms. McFarland said. "She rode in a horse-and buggy.

"My daddy died when I was 9 years old," Ms. McFarland said. "So mom was a single parent for a while. There were five children, two of us are still living. Shehas 19 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and 24 great-great-grandchildren."

"Wow, that's a lot of children," a third-grader in the audience said.

A second-grader asked the question that was on everyone's mind."How did you live so long," he asked.

"Hard work and a sense of humor," she answered.

Ms. Winter's visit provided a spontaneous "teachable moment" thatput hundreds of things into perspective for students, Ms. Link said.

Wells Elementary recently marked its 100th day of school, and kindergartners had just counted up to 100 earlier Friday morning, so adding four more helped them relate to Ms. Winter's age.

Along with the 104 cards she got from students, Ms. Winter received about 30 from people in her apartment building and dozens more from a card shower her family held, Ms. McFarland said.

"She probably wound up with 175 cards or more."