Charlotte Zerbe is a wonder to behold. At 91 years of age, she is still going strong, attributing her longevity to eating right, her strong faith, and having a circle of caring friends.
“The doctor told me five years ago that I should move from my home to assisted living,” said Charlotte. “That’s when I got a hold of Home Helpers.” Home Helpers is an agency that works to keep seniors independent, and gives advice to families of seniors so they can make an informed decision about their aging family member. “Mary and I are complete opposites, but it works for us,” says Charlotte.
“I get a call from Home Helpers every morning, too,” says Charlotte. “It’s a good idea.”
Charlotte has arthritis in her spinal cord. “The pads on my spine are worn out – from the knees down my legs are numb,” she explains. Although it may slow her down a bit, it certainly does not stop her.
Charlotte exercises in the pool three times a week. She regularly attends Bible class and plays dominoes once a month with the gals from the pool. “They all watch out for me, but I do the same for them. They all could be my daughters,” she says with a grin.
Charlotte has had her share of medical problems through her many years, but determination licked them all. She has endured a stroke, losing all control of her right side. A heart attack resulted in a stent. “I finished 70 quarts of pears and beans that summer,” she recalls. Charlotte also experienced an ulcer on one leg, having to change dressings daily for five months. She has battled with anemia and most recently her spinal arthritis. “I do exercise three times a week in the pool, 45 minutes each time. That goes a long way in keeping me mobile,” she explains.
“Along with Mary, I have a circle of friends who are good to me, too … someone does my accounting, another takes the garbage out, and the post office knows to deliver the mail to my door. All you have to do is ask.” Her son-in-law enjoys spending time in the garden with Charlotte, and caring for her land. “There are only so many social workers to go around in the county. You need to ask your friends and family for a little help along the way.”
Charlotte has a degree and background in social work that she says surfaces quite a lot of the time. She met her future husband at Michigan State University. World War II broke out during senior year in college and she was a war bride, taking trains to see her husband each time his ship would dock, at different destinations.
Her husband, Tom who had a degree in English Literature, turned to farming in Wisconsin though Charlotte knew nothing about it. “I grew up in a small town in upper Michigan, where the tourist industry was big. I didn’t even know what a silo was,” she says with a laugh.
The couple raised four children of their own who all became successful. Drawing from her social work, 33 foster children came and went from the farm, too. Their own children were expected to get up each morning and do chores, eat breakfast and get ready for school. The same went for the foster children.
This independent woman still drives her car. She heard about the senior driving program at St. Paul’s in Kaukauna and aced the written and driving tests. She says this is a good way to let family members know what you’re capable of. “If they tell you to give up your car keys, take the tests so you can determine for yourself if you are capable or not,” she says.
“I do stay away from parallel parking, and I don’t drive in downtown Appleton any longer,” admits Charlotte. She goes to her doctor appointments on the north side of Appleton, drives to the drug store and to the Hortonville garage when her car needs an oil change.
“A lot of older people get set in their ways. Don’t be afraid to try something new,” says Charlotte. “It keeps you feeling young. After all,” she adds, “a turtle only gets somewhere when he sticks his head out.”