Posted: August 13, 2020
How would you celebrate your 108th birthday? Clermont Park resident Gertie Abkes thought receiving 108 birthday cards would be nice. Her wish was more than granted. Gertie ended up receiving over 1,008 birthday cards, thanks in large part to Denver TV stations 9News, 7News, News4 and FOX31, who shared her request for cards. When the story was picked up by Yahoo News and other news outlets across the nation, Gertie’s birthday wish went viral being shared and reshared on Facebook and Twitter alike.
Gertie was born August 4, 1912 in Kelsey, Iowa. Trending news stories that year included the sinking of the HMS Titanic, suffragettes picketing in New York for women’s right to vote and Theodore Roosevelt being shot in the chest during a failed assassination attempt while he was campaigning for re-election.
Gertie has a lot of history to reflect on, but she lives in the present. She’s been a resident of Clermont Park for 19 years in her tidy and updated independent living apartment. However, everyone at the community knows Gertie loves to hold court in a special chair near the concierge desk, known as her throne. From her throne, she is able to visit with numerous residents and staff, now socially distanced and wearing faces masks. Since Clermont Park is COVID-free and set up to stay that way (still moving new residents in as soon as apartments become available), she can chat with both old and new residents alike.
In short, Gertie loves Clermont Park and Clermont Park loves Gertie.
According to Andrew Sharpe, Clermont Park’s Director of Community Life, Gertie embodies the values and philosophies of both Masterpiece Living and Eden Alternative – two key programs at Clermont Park that focus on moving away from the institutional (medical) model of care into a constructive culture of “home” where older adults direct their own lives.
As the former executive director of Clermont Park, Eden Alternative President and CEO Jill Vitale-Aussem knows Gertie personally. Jill remembers Gertie fondly and shared that “For over 25 years, The Eden Alternative has been working with organizations like Clermont Park to eliminate the loneliness, helplessness and boredom that is so prevalent in institutional models of elder care. Gertie is living proof that we thrive when we are deeply connected to others and have meaningful purpose in our lives.”
“When I see Gertie, I see beauty, not only in her kind, sweet and gentle heart but in a love that never grows old,” said Clermont Park Concierge Ian O’Neill. “For those of us who know this lovely woman, we are blessed.”
Ian’s sentiments are echoed by Andrew and Marisa Pinner, Clermont Park’s Director of Community Life. Andrew and Marisa Pinner, Clermont’s Masterpiece Living Lifestyle Coordinator, served as Gertie’s ‘handlers’ for the multiple TV interviews leading up to her birthday.
“Gertie is a special and remarkable person for many reasons,” said Andrew. “At 108, she lives independently in a safe environment where she’s healthy and thriving. Clermont Park has a sense of fellowship and community felt by residents and staff alike.”
When asked about her life philosophy, Gertie replied, “I believe you shouldn’t get caught up in hate. Treat everyone the same and love everyone – I love all people.”
Although Gertie never drank or smoke, she does eat “everything under the sun” and thinks “age is only a number.” She is a proud member of the Third Christian Reform Church of Denver, and one of her favorite pastimes is to read the Bible.
When asked if she has any regrets, Gertie answered, “I have no regrets, and I also have no secrets.”
Gertie’s 108th birthday was certainly no secret, as her story was told by more than 200 media outlets nationwide! If you want to wish Gertie a happy birthday, she’s still accepting birthday cards – just mail them to her at Clermont Park Life Plan Community, 2479 S. Clermont St., Denver, CO 80222. Watch the CBS4 This Morning news story here.