Pondering longevity


Great Aunt Jokie gets a hug during her 90th birthday party in May. As the “baby of the family,” she’s now the 10th of 14 siblings to make it to age 90. Of those 10, three have cracked the century mark. 

On Friday my great aunt Leona became the third member of her family to reach her hundredth birthday. Her brother Sylven, who was still driving a tractor up til age 98,  died in April at age 102.  And my grandma, Annie-Bananie, got within a few weeks of 101 when she died three summers ago.


Leona on her 100th birthday. 

Last month the “baby” of their family, Great Aunt Jokie, turned 90. She became the 10th sibling out of 14 to make it to that milestone. Almost everybody who made it into the “90 Club” lived several more years. Minnie made it to 99. If Great Uncle Gauis hadn’t been killed in a motorcycle wreck at age 94, he would’ve been a good candidate for hitting the century mark as well.

On the one hand, all this longevity just seems like another larger-than-life anecdote about a giant family that looms large in my imagination. (I’ve written before about how hearing stories about the Gerber family often felt like listening to episodes of “The Brady Bunch” meets “Eight is Enough” on the set of “Little House on the Prairie” – like the time Gauis cut his foot with a scythe and his parents hauled him in to see the doctor via horse and buggy, only to have little brother Alvin fall out of the hay mow and break his arm while they were gone.)

sylven with scythe

Is this scythe Sylven is holding the summer after he turned 100 the same one that gashed Gauis’ foot?  I bet one of my 800 Gerber family relatives knows the answer to that question. 

But I like knowing that I share at least part of the same DNA as these folks. I think that’s part of the reason why, instead of feeling like I’m over the hill at age 51, it feels more like I just came out of the locker room at halftime, re-energized and refocused and ready to tackle the second half of my life.

That may be nothing but an illusion (or even a delusion) as far as analogies go, but it makes me want to take care of my health so I can stay active as late into the game as possible.

For those who are interested – primarily a few relatives who check out this blog from time to time – here are a couple of more bits of recent Gerber family trivia:


Jehu and Lydia Gerber and their 14 children, shown here in 1951.

  • The last three surviving siblings are sisters who married brothers – Leona Schwartz, Alice Schwartz and Jokie Schwartz. (Grandma and her brother Ed also married siblings, Ervin and Viola Isch.)
  • When my son Ben graduated from Norwell earlier this month, it turned out that he was among six members of the Class of 2016 who are all descendants of the Jehu and Lydia Gerber family. Nobody realized it until the crowd was starting to dissipate, or we’d have arranged to take a picture.
  • Of those six graduating seniors, two were left-handed pitchers on the baseball team (Ben and Carson Gerber) and two are future college roommates (Ben and Avery Taylor, who both plan to attend Trine University in the fall.)
  • benaverygrad

    Ben, right, with his good friend and future college roommate Avery, who also happens to be his third cousin. 

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11 Responses to Pondering longevity

  1. Pat Gerber says:

    Just saw your blog for the first time! Quite interesting. Floyd and Guy also married sisters! It is quite a family! I am a daughter in law of Floyd.

    • tischcaylor says:

      Oh, you’re Carson’s grandma, right? Didn’t realize there were others who married sisters, but then there’s always something new to discover about that family. 🙂

  2. Charles Isch says:

    Very special family

  3. Mary K. Gerber says:

    Appreciate your love for the family!! They were a special bunch! I always called Aunt Annie Annie Banani, too. They were special because, since your dad and I were one day apart, we always celebrated birthdays together! Such fun times! Mary K. Gerber Gerber!

  4. Mary K. Gerber says:

    Appreciate your love for the family! I always called Aunt Annie Annie Banani, too. Erv and Annie were always special because Charles and I were born 1 day apart and our two families celebrated our birthdays together! M. K.

  5. Angie Neihouser says:

    Love, love, love this! 🙂

    • tischcaylor says:

      Thanks, Angie. That picture of your Great Grandpa Sylven is just too cool. (I think I stole it off Tony’s facebook page at some point.) Sylven certainly won the longevity award thus far not just for living the longest, but staying active the longest. Quite a feat for a guy with seven sisters.

      • Angie Neihouser says:

        At Grandpa’s funeral in April, I was talking with who married who in their family, and there are a couple that you don’t have listed. You have Leona, Alice, and Jokie listed as sisters that married brothers (Ralph, Ervin, and Ed Schwartz), but the ladies’ brother, Lloyd Gerber, married the men’s sister, Martha Schwartz. That means that 4 siblings married 4 siblings. Then there is another as Pat posted: Guy and Floyd Gerber married sisters – Alice and Glady (Heyerly) respectively. Also, Annie Gerber married Erv Isch, and Erv’s sister Vi Isch married Annie’s brother Ed Gerber. The last connection is that Annie and Ed Gerber’s brother, Alvin, married Erv and Vi Isch’s cousin, Helen. I couldn’t believe that there were so many connections in this family. No wonder they were close!! I can’t believe that in all these years I didn’t know all of the connections. I knew some of them, or course, but I’m realizing how much I missed out on learning. You will cherish all of the stories that you’ve heard over the years. Maybe in one of your blogs, you can share more of them with the rest of us. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who would love that! 🙂

  6. tischcaylor says:

    Very interesting. I have written some other Gerber family posts, including Jehu’s favorite sayings and an interview with Leona 3-4 years ago on sausage making and the fire that destroyed the summer kitchen. You can probably find some of them by doing a search, but I need to organize them so they’re easier to find.

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