‘Ignorance’ helps Hot Springs woman reach 100th birthday

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STELLA HOLYK wears her new scarf and holds a gift bag as she discusses living to be 100 years old. (Douglas Wilks/Clark Fork Valley Press)

“Ignorance.” That was the reply of Hot Springs Health and Rehabilitation resident Stella Holyk when she was asked the question ‘What is your secret to being 100 years old.”

Holyk was born Feb. 25, 1917 in Coburg, Montana. When she was asked if she was born in the morning or at night she replied, “I don’t remember if anyone told me. I was just born and have been growing ever since.”

At a celebration of Holyk’s 100th birthday, Amanda Leichtnam helped Holyk to her feet and hit a Piñata full of candy that refused to break until it was torn open. A large sheet birthday cake was cut and slices were given to Holyk and the other residents gathered during the celebration.

Holyk is the oldest of 14 children and her father was a barber and a farmer. She has two younger siblings who are still living today. Her oldest son, Joe, is 80 years old and lives 50 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was gong to be driving her to the Catholic Church in Hot Springs later this past Saturday to spend some time with family and friends. Her three-year-old great great grandson, Aaron, lives in Hot Springs.

Holyk was the salutatorian in her graduating class at Dodson, Montana.

“The year was 1934, and I remember the man in charge gave me something he wrote that I was supposed to read. I thought about it and wondered why the hell was I supposed to read what he wrote. I was so used to doing what others had told me for so long,” she said.

Holyk married and was a fortuneteller in a carnival and travelled with her husband.

“I did that for too long,” she did not go into more detail or expand on that comment.

“She is more of a listener than a talker,” Leichtnam, who works at the Hot Springs Rehabilitation facility stated. “She loves to play bingo and do crafts. She will play three cards at one time and helps the other residents see the numbers on their cards.”

Holyk opened many birthday cards given to her by the residents and staff. Quietly reading them and, at times, commenting on who had written something in each card. She then opened several gift bags. When she pulled out a plaid shirt she stated, “They can see me coming now.” The other residents and staff laughed with her.

Her eyes opened wide and her mouth gave a gasp as she pulled a pair of jeans from a different gift bag. She exclaimed with both delight and surprise, “Jeans! I have never had a pair of jeans in my entire life.”

When Holyk was asked about her past she replied, “I really liked the horse and buggy days.”

Leichtnam prompted her to talk more about dancing and she said, “Yes, I like to dance. There would be someone who would begin playing music and everyone would show up and start dancing.”

Leichtnam shared a memory of Holyk from twenty-five years ago.

“I would sneak off and go to her house and have the best meals there. She made the best chicken.”

Holyk then spoke up and replied, “Yes, chicken was my main dish.”

When Holyk was asked if he felt like 100 she replied, “No, I don’t feel a day over five.”

Everyone in the room burst into laughter, including Holyk.

When asked what has been the biggest surprise of her entire life, she paused and appeared to be in thought for a few moments; her reply was very direct and sincere.

“That I am still here today. There was a time when I thought I wasn’t going to make it. My crazy husband was driving us from Kellogg to Wallace and there was water everywhere. He kept driving through it and finally he decided we weren’t going to get there. He turned around and drove right back through all that water. I thought we were gong to be swept into the river,” she shook her head and smiled after telling the story.

Holyk shared another humorous story about riding in a car.

“My Aunt Theresa and I worked in a cafeteria in Seattle. We got into the car and started humming. She pulled the car over thinking there was something wrong with the car. Then she would start on the road again. I would hum and she would stop the car and look at it,” Holyk laughed out loud and continued. “You know, I don’t think she ever realized that I was the one making the humming sound.”

Holyk moved around throughout the west, living mostly in Montana and Washington. She made her final move to Hot Springs in 1978, after she had lived in Whitefish and sold her home. Holyk had some very sage and to the point advice for those people who are younger.

“Be kind to people and do what you can to help them,” she said.

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