Agrarian – Samaritan -- Nonagenarian

Ninety-one years ago in rural South Dakota, a buoyant baby girl was born in a log cabin to a pioneering farming family. With a balanced sense of adventure and doggedness, June Slocum Edwards has engendered a long and fruitful life, although she insists that her fate has “simply unfurled.”

Twenty-four years after leaving the city where she raised her four children, having had a few health issues and missing family, June arrived back in Cincinnati. Ensconced in her new apartment, June craved an activity that would bring her outdoors -- always her favorite place to be. With a passion for gardening, she spotted flowerless plots of land bordering her apartment building and became inspired.

At first it was simply a matter of pulling weeds. Soon she approached the management of the building with her idea of planting flower beds. With the go ahead in place, she began a hardy digging and planting project that converted the bleak patches of dirt into wide areas of stunning flowers.

Striking up conversations with neighbors as she gardened, she was soon dubbed “the Flower Lady.” Other tenants volunteered to help in drawing up plans for the garden and giving gardening tips. “I admired her,” says friend and neighbor, Betty Lou Niehaus. “June had true vision looking at that dark dirt and conceiving of what beauty there could be.”

“My main focus has always been to share my pleasure in being outdoors with others,” says June. “I’ve worked on the garden to give us all a beautiful outdoor place to enjoy.”

Her lifelong good health has given her the ability to be perpetually active. Only once in her life has she had a broken bone -- at the age of three after falling off a horse. Lithe and agile, June advises others to do as she does: “Don’t dwell on your age – just keep your body moving.”

Her week is packed with her favorite activities – gardening, yoga, exercise class, line dancing, reading, and keeping up with current events. She maintains her balance by studying Tai Chi and attends programs at local senior centers.

Weekends are devoted to her family. Oldest son, Doug, a professor at Miami University, lives in Mt. Washington. Her two other sons, Bob, a salesman with Trauth Dairy, and Dennis, a clinical engineer at The Christ Hospital, live close by. Daughter Karen, who works for Kaiser Permanente, is in California, but they visit each other whenever possible.

June firmly believes in having family support to give your life meaning. “Our nation is fractured partly because of a breach in the support of family,” she says. “Children need to have both parents and, if possible, extended family involved in their lives.” She suggests approaching the younger generation openly but tactfully. “Try not to lecture to kids,” she asserts. “You’ve got to listen to what they have to say. Kids need to feel that they’re supported emotionally. For now they’ll probably do whatever they want, but years later they will thank you for listening to them.”

Inspired by her strong relationship with her nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, June hopes for a world in which younger people are more involved in the lives of their elders. As a former social worker, she is disturbed and profoundly saddened when she sees her apartment building’s residents sitting idly. “Such simple efforts as younger people visiting in this building and walking with an older person to a store once a week would do so much good,” she says.

Self-reflectively, June attributes a long life to having an optimistic bent and doing things in moderation (“Don’t overdo it” is her credo.). She avoids negative people who only serve to bring a person down. “Worry doesn’t get you anywhere,” June confides. “I live one day at a time, trying to accomplish something each day.” She has accepted there are also things one just cannot accomplish in life. As in the Serenity Prayer, her wisdom has been to know the difference.

“There’s never been a boring day in my life,” she sums up, a possible explanation for why her long life has been so contented.

[Sadly, June Edwards died in August, 2008.]

June Edwards