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Emily Welker, Published April 20 2013

105-year-old 'birthday girl' the center of attention

FARGO - We all complain about getting older. But when you ask Mabel O’Callaghan what on earth could be good about the aging process, she puts it in a new perspective.

“You get so much attention!” exclaims the 105-year-old birthday girl.

It’s attention O’Callaghan has earned. She has lived through evacuation from Seoul, South Korea, when her husband served in the military during the Korean War, and through 15 years as a schoolteacher in rural North Dakota near Brisbane. She then worked in the women’s section at a Bismarck department store for another 17 years. She’s survived two husbands, five wars (including Korea), 11 siblings and many decades as a Minnesota Twins fan.

“I watch baseball, basketball; I watch news all the time,” said O’Callaghan. “But not football – that game is too wild for me.”

“You’ll have to see the Twins play soon in person,” said her great-niece, Jaime Aasen. “See the new stadium.”

Aasen was one of about 80 people who turned out to help O’Callaghan celebrate her 105th birthday at Edgewood Vista senior living community. Among them were 35 or 40 family members who came here from Bismarck, Devils Lake and Omaha, Neb. O’Callaghan has eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren in their ranks, and when she’s asked which one is her favorite, she answers with the same sweet sagacity as she answered the question about getting older.

“All of them,” she smiles.

Her great-great-nephew Drake Aasen is named after the part of North Dakota that O’Callaghan’s family first farmsteaded when they arrived from Norway, a family of which she is the first generation born on American soil. Drake will be 10 in a few days, and he has big plans to make it to 105 himself, especially after he determined the TV cameras were here for his great-great aunt Saturday. When he was done sneaking into the background of her interview shots, he shared his master plan to pass the century mark.

“Just keep working hard. Exercise, keep a good social life,” said Drake. “I think it’s really amazing. She was just on the news and in the paper and everything.”

With this gene pool, Drake may just have a shot at it. Of O’Callaghan’s 12 siblings, most of them made it to their late 80s and 90s, according to family members. One sister made it to 95; another made it to 100.

“Good tough Norwegians,” said Aasen.

O’Callaghan shares another secret of longevity: “Believe in God,” she said.

Drake pictures himself in another 95 years, and mentions some of the changes that may come to pass, as they have in O’Callaghan’s lifetime. He lists flying cars and carbon-neutral lifestyles as the many possibilities of the century ahead, and when he’s asked if he thinks it’ll be hard or confusing to handle so many changes, he shakes his head.

“Not really,” he said. “I would have lived a long time and would understand a lot.”

Seems like wisdom, as well as longevity, might also run in O’Callaghan’s family.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541