When Juanita Gnip turned 100, she handed her car keys over to her kids.
By RIMSIE McCONIGA
When Juanita Gnip turned 100, she handed her car keys over to her kids. It’s wasn’t that her navigation skills were waning, she just felt that common sense was telling her that driving at the century mark might not be a good idea.
Now, after celebrating her 101st birthday in March with “all kinds of parties,” Juanita headed back to work at St. Luke’s Cushing Hospital where she has worked for 50 years, 10 years in the hospital beauty shop and 40 years as a volunteer.
When Juanita tells people her age, most of them say they are amazed.
“They say, oh no, not really,” Juanita says.
At one of her many 101st birthday parties, she wore an old dress, beads and a hat and put on glasses so she would look like an “old woman.”
“We don’t ever know what mother will do next,” says her daughter, Arlene Perry.
She began volunteer work in 1979 and became the patient coordinator at the hospital.
She now works three days a week in volunteer service there. She became a member of the Cushing Auxiliary and joined the hospice program as a volunteer.
She also volunteered at Abeles School for Handicapped Children and taught 2- and 3-year-old children at Sunday school for 43 years.
Her volunteer service allows her a wide range of helpful interactions, from greeting and directing visitors at the information desk to talking with patients, their families, hospital staff and doctors. Her decades of experience volunteering have given her a special ability to empathize and interact with patients who are facing surgery and who feel anxious and stressed. She focuses on helping the patients relax and feel comfortable.
At 101, she not only still works, she lives alone and loves to go out with friends. When at home, she watches TV and reads a lot.
An active lifestyle runs in her family.
“I had a photo of my grandfather on a horse when he was 99 so on my 99th birthday I went down to the carousel and got on a horse and had my picture taken,” says Juanita. “He lived to be 100.”
“She didn’t know where to find a real horse thank goodness or she might have had a broken hip,” says Arlene.
Her century-long journey began in a three-room house in the country that had a coal stove, no electricity, oil lamps, no refrigerator, a well outside to keep food cold in a bucket and an outhouse.
One of her duties was to carry coal in from outside at night to feed the coal stove. She was an only child.
“I had a pony to ride, I climbed trees and pretended I was in a circus, I had nobody to play with,” says Juanita. “It was a rural area of Leavenworth. We went through the Depression, everything was rationed including sugar, gas, nylon hose – ladies all hated that. My parents and I would travel to Atchison to visit my grandparents by horse and buggy and it took forever.”
After her parents bought a Model-T, the journey became a little faster.
She also became a young entrepreneur at the age of 8 when she picked strawberries and raspberries and got 2 cents per box.
“I thought I was rich,” she said.
As an only child, Juanita was so lonely that she decided when she got married she was going to have two boys and two girls. And she did – only it ended up being three boys and two girls.
“It was no fun being by myself in the country as a child but having my kids was the best, happiest time of my life,” she said.
She also has seven grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
And her kids’ happiest memories include time with their mom.
The kids agree that their mom was always loving and involved – and always there for them, while being kind, strong and one-of-a-kind. Her independent lifestyle at 101 years of age is nothing new. The kids say she was always independent and hard working and she still tells them, “I’ll do it myself.”
Juanita’s awards and certificates continue to accumulate. Her volunteering efforts have earned her a Volunteer of the Year award at St. Luke’s Cushing Hospital in 1986 and a 1998 Volunteer of the Year award for hospice work.
She has been honored at the hospital several years for her service and the Surgery Family Waiting Room was dedicated in her honor.
She has also received a Kansas House of Representatives certificate, Ladies VFW Auxiliary certificates, plus certificates of appreciation awards for being a Sunday school teacher, patient coordinator, humanitarian and hospice and daycare volunteer for the handicapped.
After receiving a Heroes in Healthcare honor from Ingram’s Magazine, Juanita told the magazine, “There was always someone in my family who needed care, even now, there are still people who call me and ask me to go with them through the pre-surgery process. I treat people like family, and since I have been at the hospital so long, and know so many people, they feel comfortable calling on me.”
She said that when a man entered the surgical waiting room many years ago looking frightened, she approached him.
“I started talking with him and stayed with him until his procedure began,” she said. “He had to come back another day for more surgery, and even though I was not in the waiting room, he asked for me to come and be with him, which I did.”’
When she received a package containing a handmade cross at the hospital a short time later, there was a note inside from the man’s wife.
“She wanted to let me know he had died unexpectedly, but he wanted me to have the cross,” Juanita says. “It is displayed on my front door today.”
Caregiving came naturally to Juanita. She took care of her parents and grandparents.
Her father lived with her and her husband for 10 years and her mother-in-law lived with them for 20 years.
Her decades of experience volunteering have given her a special ability to empathize and interact with patients who are facing surgery and who feel anxious and stressed. She focuses on helping patients relax and feel comfortable.
But while the honors and accolades are nice, her motivation is purely based on her love for people – and to keep working so that she can be around people. Arlene says her mom would definitely miss working and plans to work for as long as she can.
Except for a bad knee, Juanita’s health is good. She has never smoked and rarely has a drink.
“I eat junk food and chocolate, that’s my diet morning noon and night and I’ve never had high cholesterol,” she said.
She stays active and gets plenty of exercise walking at the hospital.
“I used to lie about my age, but now I don’t even care,” says Juanita. She also likes to joke about age. “One of my daughters is going to be 75 and I think, ‘gosh, she’s getting old.’ But I don’t think I’m as old as I am.”
Her kids are proud that their mother still volunteers and wants to take care of people. They say she has a giving, caring heart and that she always has been willing to believe in people.
"Recently, her granddaughter was there and mom asked her something and her granddaughter said she wasn’t sure and mom said ‘can’t you just google it?’” says Arlene. “I thought how do you know about Google? She keeps up on what’s going on.”
“I like that name, Google,” says Juanita.
Juanita’s advice for living a long, happy life includes finding something to do, keeping busy and making yourself get up and keep moving. Most importantly Juanita says, “Count your blessings.”