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Faith and fun, secrets to a long life

Isidora and Jack Shirkey didn’t always have a car while they were raising their three boys in Aurora. Isidora was a stay-at-home mom and Jack a medical technician. But even when finances were tight, they managed to keep date night a priority.

“I used to babysit during the day, all week long, to make money so we could get a babysitter on Saturday night,” Isidora, 100, reminisced from her room at Mullen Home where she has lived the last seven years.

The couple, married in 1941, would take the bus from their home to the University of Denver to watch the Pioneers play hockey, her favorite sport. Another one of their favorite events was the National Western Stock Show. She hasn’t missed a stock show since 1941, she said, including a trip earlier this year.

“I go out more now than I did before I lived here,” she said. “Every day we’re busy here.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate Mullen Home supported by a professional staff and more than 60 volunteers, take residents shopping and to plays and restaurants; as well as surprise them with what Isidora called “mystery trips”—trips where the residents don’t know where they’re headed till they get there. Destinations have included the mountains and churches around the state. They also have activities such as crafts, games, exercise and baking.

“This is a wonderful place,” she said.

“I don’t feel 100,” she added, “heavens no, I feel like I’m 50 or 60.”

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Isidora is a member of a small group—just .02 percent of the population, or 55,000 who have celebrated a 100th birthday, according to an April 2014 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Four-fifths are female, most widowed, and 17 percent live in poverty, with a mean retirement income of about $12,200 per year. Isidora is currently the only centenarian at Mullen Home.

The Little Sisters have cared for Denver’s elderly poor at their Highlands location for 95 years. The 10-acre campus includes 17 apartments for independent living, five assisted living units and 42 intermediate nursing care rooms. The sisters live in the home and are available to residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure attentive care.

“I have everything here!” Isidora said, including the opportunity to continue to live out her faith.

She attends daily Mass at the home’s chapel, a commute that’s much easier than it was growing up in the small town of La Jara outside Alamosa where she was the 11th of 12 children of Ramonacita Gonzalez, an immigrant from Spain, and Encarnacio Romero from New Mexico.

“We’d walk to church with mother every Sunday, four miles, to the great big church in Capulin,” she said, where she and her mother sang in the choir.

“The church had a beautiful marble alter,” she continued, “I wish I could go see it now.”

Her father, a sheep herder, would spend months away at a time. Seven of the couple’s nine daughters became nuns. They prayed the rosary together as a family.

“Every blessed night,” she recalled, “we would kneel down with mother and pray the rosary.”

Today Isidora prays the rosary two or three times a day.

“Mary’s the Mother of God,” she said of her devotion to the Blessed Mother. “She’s my saint, I pray to her all the time.”

She prays mostly prays for her family, she said, her sons Michael and Larry, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and one on the way—as well as for Jack and her son Terry who have died. And she thanks God for her life and her good health.

“I have no pain,” she said, other than some occasional arthritis in her finger. “I’ve had a great life. I always made sure I had fun, whatever I did and wherever I went, and I have a lot of fun here at Mullen Home.”


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