Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


"Donít Worry! Youíll Live Longer!"

Within Van Buren Countyís tiny population, it is not unusual for one of its residents to celebrate one hundred years of life. Marie Greenfield, whose funeral was held in 2003, may have lived longer than any other county native. Born in Bonaparte, she was 109 years old when she passed away, and was one of the oldest persons in the United States!

Marie lived most of her life in Van Buren County. Of those that spent all or most of their time here, several others lived to be well over 100. "Grandma" Pearl Reed (actually born in Dallas City, Illinois) moved to Pittsburg with her family when she was an infant. She lived 104 years, and her daughter Fern lived 96 years, for a combined total of 200 years between them!

Interestingly enough, Pearl Reed was not the oldest resident of Van Buren County when she died at the Good Samaritan Center in Keosauqua at age 104. George Hendricks was still alive, and continued on until he was 106. But, George was not the first Van Buren County man to reach 106 years of age!

Uncle Billy Mort was born near Pittsburg on June 1, 1845 when Iowa was a frontier territory. Although he rarely saw any Indians, Mort lived during a time when life was harsh and rugged. He really didnít do anything special to promote longevity; in fact, he chewed tobacco for over 90 years. He liked life to be carefree and relaxing. One of his favorite expressions was, "Donít worry! Youíll live longer!"

"Uncle Billy" Mort outlived two wives. He was married to Elsie Pike from 1870 to 1884 and to Sarah Peacock from 1886 to 1933. He died at his daughterís home in Cantril on June 9, 1951!

What made "Uncle Billy" different was that he was mentally sharp and still got around on his own power. He came to visit my grandmother in Leando one day during the spring of 1951. He claimed to be 105 and I remember doubting his incredible age until I later saw his obituary in the paper. But there was really nobody with whom to compare him.

In spite of its smallness, Van Buren County continues to produce many people that live to be in their 90s and 100s. Perhaps we need to find and market the secret to this longevity. Remember the famous line, "the secretís in the sauce!" from the blockbuster movie Fried Green Tomatoes? Maybe our secret is in the water. If anyone knows the answer, please tell me and Iíll be glad to help commercialize it as Uncle Billyís Tonic, with the label "Donít Worry! Youíll live longer!"

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick