December 2002

Jeannette Wiede -
Living Life to the Fullest for 86 Years

by Joseph H. RADDER

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Have you ever met an 86 year old who takes ten or eleven trips a year, has had two full careers (as a teacher and a travel agent), exercises twice weekly in a Tai Chi class, is active in her church, is an avid reader even though legally blind and is editor of a community newsletter? Unless you know Jeannette Wiede, a resident of Asbury Pointe in Amherst, you probably find it hard to believe that such a person lives.

And she does live the very full life that keeps her young at heart. “Keep active” is her motto, her philosophy of life, and it shows. If you were asked to guess Jeannette Wiede’s age, you’d probably say she is in her sixties or early seventies.

Traveling has always been part of her active life. After spending twenty years pursuing a successful teaching career, Jeannette Wiede retired and, after a short rest, she became a travel agent. This work took her all over the world, planning and escorting trips to Scandinavia, Switzerland, Russia, China, India, South America, New Zealand and Australia. More recently her traveling has been within the United States. In April she went to California for her granddaughter’s graduation from the Long Beach Police Academy. In May she went to an Elderhostel in Chautauqua. In June she was in Michigan at her great grandson’s birthday party. In July she went to Albany to visit her son and his family. In August there was a cruise on the Grande-Caribe to seven N. England Isles. In September there was a double celebration of her 86th birthday and she traveled to her great granddaughter’s second birthday in Sierra Vista, Arizona. To round out the year, Jeannette plans a November trip to Myrtle Beach and a holiday trip to New York to see the Rockettes and visit the Guggenheim Museum. “But I’m always glad to get home” she said. “I spent two years with my daughter in Arizona but I was very glad to get back to Buffalo.”

Wiede’s teaching career began after an earlier stint as secretary in the office of the Philip Sheridan School in the Town of Tonawanda. “I always loved learning,” she said. The principal there, Ken Crissey, encouraged her to go to Buff State to prepare for a teaching career and she did. “I was much older than most of the other freshmen,” she said. “However, there were a number of service men going to college after returning from Korea, so I wasn’t the only one in school in my age group. This experience was just the reverse of her elementary school experience when she was the youngest in the class. “I started kindergarten at age three,” she said. “They let me in only on condition that I would not disrupt the class, and after a trial period, I was allowed to stay. As a result, I graduated from Fosdick Masten Park High School at age 16.” After graduation from F.M.P.H.S. she worked 6 years at The Larkin Company until she married Richard Wiede in June 1939. The thirties were depression years and jobs weren’t easy to come by. Fortunately, she did eventually land the secretarial job at the Philip Sheridan School.

Jeannette Wiede is proud of her humble beginnings. “I was born on the kitchen table at 89 Alexander Place in the Cold Spring section of Buffalo on September 9, 1916,” she tells us with a smile. The youngest of six children , she and an older sister are the only survivors of the Jensen family. While talking about her childhood, Wiede told us something we found hard to believe. “Being the youngest child, I was spoiled and I loved it. I got everything I wanted.” Certainly if this were true she couldn’t have turned out to be the giving and selfless person she is today. Or could she?

“My father, Kristian Wilhelm Jensen, was born in Denmark,” Jeannette says. “He came to the United States all by himself at age fourteen. He worked on bridges in Chicago and Jamestown and then put himself through Allegheny College. He changed his last name to Johnson.”

Jeannette’s husband, Richard W. Wiede, was an industrial salesman in the propane and welding field. “Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel, General Motors and Iroquois Gas were his clients,” she said.

The Wiedes had three children. Nancy lives in Arizona, Linda in Michigan and James in Crayville, New York. There are four adult grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Although legally blind, Jeannette reads continuously, thanks to magnifying equipment and Talking Books, provided by the State of New York. Most recently she read “John Adams” by David McCullach and the “Shelters of Stone” by Jean Ariel. She also recently read the Harry Potter books. I knit children’s caps for the Salvation Army while I listen to Talking Books,” she said displaying a box full of colorful caps.

couldn’t get along without my computer,’’ she says. “I exchange e-mails with my family regularly and I use it to compose ‘To the Pointe’, the monthly Asbury Pointe newsletter.” Speaking of Asbury Pointe, it’s a beautiful facility for senior living.

Jeannette volunteers two hours per week at the condo’s front desk. “I used to love to do crossword puzzles,” she said, “but I had to give them up because of my vision problems.”

An enthusiastic supporter of the Olmstead Center for the Visually Impaired, Jeannette Wiede is an active member of a visual support group at the Amherst Senior Center.

Also active in the Women’s Health Innitiative at U.B. and theBrighton Community Church, she is on the church’s 50th Anniversary Committee, currently busy planning an event-filled year of celebration.

In April, Jeannette will participate in “Stories of Life” with MusicalFare Theatre at Daemen College.

One is hard-pressed to find a comparable life story, one so filled with interesting pursuits, as is the story of the life of Jeannette Wiede.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.


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