Archive for Wednesday, April 26, 1995

KEY TO 100

April 26, 1995

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A Lawrence woman says laughter is the key to a healthy life.

LaVancha Stalmok's memories are interspersed with the natural erosions of time. She remembers performing in a touring stage production of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" in 1919 and 1920. She doesn't remember what character she played.

She remembers the stock market crash of 1929.

"It didn't affect me very much," she said Tuesday. "We didn't have anything to lose."

She can't remember how she met her husband of 39 years.

On Monday, she celebrated her 100th birthday.

"I was busy all the time," said Stalmok, a gap-toothed grinner who spent much of her life in Leavenworth and now lives at the Brandon Woods Retirement Community in Lawrence.

Born in Fort Madison, Iowa, on April 24, 1895, and retired since 1960, Stalmok has said that good, clean living helped the time pass swiftly.

She didn't smoke, drank alcohol only occasionally and wasn't big on exercise or health foods. She likes to laugh and says she feels like she's about 50. She has the expressive, wizened face of a senior citizen, perhaps one about two or three decades younger.

Stalmok was born a year after Thomas Edison's kinetoscope -- an early motion picture system-- was given its first public demonstration and a year before the U.S. Supreme Court approved, in its Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, racial segregation based on the "separate but equal" doctrine.

While the Great War raged overseas, Stalmok was busy teaching school in Leavenworth and Holton. She was in Chicago during World War II. One of her few regrets today is that she never visited Europe.

Stalmok was 46 when she graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in art in 1941. A year later, she received a master's degree in art, and for the next 18 years, she taught in Chicago schools.

Her husband, a waiter, died in 1969 after 30 years of marriage.

Some of Stalmok's oil paintings and pastel drawings are at Brandon Woods, including a portrait of her husband. A 1949 painting depicts one of her third-grade art classes.

In all her years, people have changed little, even if the surroundings have, Stalmok said. She has trouble believing that humans will ever walk on the moon, even though they did so when she was 74.

But she likes television.

"I think it's good" she said, showing a smile that stretched wider when Felicia Brown, the retirement home's activities director, suggested champagne and a limousine for a 101st birthday party next year.

"Laughter is really good medicine," Brown said.

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