Community Life, Resident Spotlights

He’s 100, she’s 101, and they’re married to each other



On February 29, 2024, Harry Westberg turned 100 years old, joining a growing population of older adults in the United States. He celebrated the day with family and friends at Waverly Gardens senior living community, in North Oaks, Minn., including Dorothy, his wife of 15 years, who reached her 101st year on August 6.

Life expectancy of an American alive today averages 78.2 years. But currently, more than 70,000 Americans still living have reached their 100th birthday. Centenarians Dorothy and Harry are examples of that trend. But while celebrating their long lives, it is easy to miss the far more extraordinary achievement: that a woman born in 1922 is married to a man born in 1924.

Based on actuarial data from the Social Security Administration, the probability of Harry and Dorothy still sharing married life together: roughly one-thousandth of a percent.

Harry and Dorothy were not thinking of these numbers, of course, when they met as teenagers at Bible camp on the shores of Medicine Lake, northwest of Minneapolis, 80 years ago. They became good friends and kept in touch. “Just friends back then,” Dorothy confirmed, while Harry admits that he quietly harbored feelings for Dorothy. But then he learned that she was engaged. “I thought, that’s the end of that!” he remembers.

Not so fast. Over the next eight decades, their life stories paralleled and intersected in remarkable ways.

Years on the mission field

Dorothy grew up Presbyterian and studied at Dubuque University in Iowa. She went on to teach for several years in Iran at a school for missionary children. After returning home, she met and married Arnold Nelson, a Navy pilot and chaplain. The couple spent over four decades serving churches, mostly in California, then retired to the Twin Cities area.

When Arnold passed away, Dorothy’s family encouraged her to move to a retirement community. She reserved an apartment at Waverly Gardens before it was completed and was the second resident to move in after it opened in 2006.

Meanwhile, Harry, who was raised in the Evangelical Covenant Church, went into the armed services. After he was discharged, he moved to Chicago to study at Moody Bible Institute, then Wheaton College and North Park Seminary. He was ordained to ministry, married his first wife, Gladys, another Wheaton College graduate, and they served as missionaries in Japan for 35 years. They moved to the Twin Cities and enjoyed retirement until, after 60 years together, Gladys passed away.

Finding each other again

After moving to the Twin Cities, Harry and Dorothy and their spouses reconnected, and a mutual and long-standing friendship grew between the two couples. Dorothy and Harry say, without hesitation, that they were blessed with wonderful marriages.

“It seemed natural, after my wife died, to think of Dorothy,” Harry said. “We shared a history and faith and knew each so other well,” he added.

Motivated by love, Harry moved to Waverly Gardens. They married in the chapel on October 24, 2009. Now, their blended family includes eight children, 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

The Westbergs spend the days together in their independent living apartment. For the most part, they maintain their own household and daily needs. Harry cooks, Dorothy does the laundry, and they enjoy participating wherever they can in their senior community. Both feel that their lives are purposeful, meaningful, and fulfilling, and they still contribute to the social and spiritual fabric of Waverly Gardens.

In the morning, Harry rises early to deliver newspapers to residents. “I’m probably the world’s only 100-year-old paperboy,” he laughs. He also brings his pastoral experience to support chapel services.

Dorothy dedicates her time to a prayer ministry. Every day she intercedes for people on her prayer list that includes family, friends, neighbors and the Waverly Gardens’ staff. “Even if I don’t see them, I feel connected to them whenever I’m praying,” she said.

Recent research verifies that the Westberg’s decision to live in a senior community increases their longevity. Last month, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), at the University of Chicago, released a report finding that older adults who live in senior housing communities live longer than those living in the greater community.

When asked what keeps them going, Harry and Dorothy point to each other and say, “Him/Her.” They also give credit to the many friends they have among residents and staff at Waverly Gardens. “People truly care about each other here,” said Dorothy.

Studies also bear this out. Researcher and author Dan Buettner writes about “Blue Zones,” pockets of people around the world with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100. His research shows that — along with eating wisely, moving regularly, and a positive, purposeful outlook — strong personal relationships and a sense of belonging are key to longevity.

But what do the Westbergs say accounts for their long lives together? They will tell you that along with their love and respect for each other, their faith, family, friendships and fun are at the heart of their marriage. With over 201 years between them, they are grateful for every day they share. “Every morning that I wake up is a gift,” says Harry and Dorothy nods in agreement. Their plan for the future is to keep opening this gift together for as long as possible.

Find out more about the benefits of living at a Presbyterian Homes & Services community.



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