This weekend we are celebrating America’s 239th year of independence. It’s amazing to think that America’s independence reached centenarian status ages ago, in 1876 to be exact. Just 40 years after America’s 100th Independence birthday, some of America’s current centenarians would be born. In 1776, early Americans wouldn’t have dreamed of living to or past 100 years. Back then, the average life expectancy was 35! Today it is 82, which means Americans have lived 47 years longer in the past 239 years.
Medical and technological advances play a significant role in the nearly 50 year gain in life expectancy, but there are other factors as well. Healthy and active lifestyles are always major factors in longevity, and living in a retirement community has been shown to increase longevity and the quality of life. Wesley Homes has several centenarian residents, and that number is climbing fast. Recently, Velna Steiner celebrated her 100th birthday.
“It is a privilege to live here and meet all the wonderful people,” said Velna Steiner, Wesley Homes Des Moines’ newest centenarian. Born Velna Bender in Monroe on June 6, 1915, she has lived in Washington all of her 100 years. What is significant about Velna isn’t her age but her grace and her mission to give back to her community.
In 1934, Velna married Gus Steiner; together they settled in Seattle’s Rainier Valley where they raised their two boys and two girls. Velna was a homemaker, and Gus worked for 34 years as the station manager at King Street Station. When he retired, the Steiners bought a home across the street from the Des Moines United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, Gus would pass before ever moving in to what Velna called her “happy little home.”
Velna had always sewn and made quilts, so she got busy creating and donating her homespun masterpieces to Habitat for Humanity, shelters for homeless women and children, food banks and many other charities. She worked closely with the friends she’d made at the church.
Eleven years ago, Velna decided she needed a retirement community where she could continue to live as independently as possible. With half of her children in the Bremerton area and the other half near Des Moines, she knew her new community would be Wesley Homes.
For the past 10 years, Velna has been a faithful member of the Needle Crafters group at Wesley Homes. Binders filled with pictures of the quilts she has crafted over the years were on display at her birthday celebration. She completed her most recent quilt, created for Habitat for Humanity, just in time to be shown during her party, an event filled with friends, family, cake and memories.
Velna was modest about her donation. When asked to have a picture taken with her quilt, she replied, “This is what I love to do. I don’t see why it’s newsworthy, but hey, snap away my dear!”
The proceeds for many of Velna’s handmade treasures have also gone to the Circle of Concern, a fund created by Wesley Homes to off-set the costs of living for residents who have run out of funds through no fault of their own.
“When you are busy helping others,” said Velna, “you are not thinking of your own aches and pains. You are thinking beyond yourself.” Her plans for the future include her usual thoughtfulness. She plans “to keep making quilts and donating them to those in need!”