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Lavin recalls a century of change



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AT AGE 104, Ida Lavin of Lake Geneva watched as the world changed from oil lamps, wood-burning stoves and horse-drawn buggies, to electric lights, central heating and the automobile. The still-active centenarian votes, reads local newspapers and keeps up with her great-great-grandchildren. She turned 104 on Feb. 5.

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February 12, 2013 | 11:55 AM
Ask Ida Lavin how she's doing.

"I'm doing just great," the 104-year-old Lake Geneva woman responds, with just a hint of smile.

And there's little reason to doubt her.

Recently, Ida met with a Regional News reporter at the home of her son, Ronald Lavin. Joining them was their friend, Deanna Hopper.

Ida is a bit hard of hearing. Ronald and Deanna helped relay some questions to her.

She is one of the few remaining Americans who can lay claim to being born when the horse and buggy was still a major mode of personal transportation.

In fact, Ida said one of her first memories is riding in a horse-drawn carriage.

She was born in 1909, about the same time that the modern world was being born.

The Wright Brothers had made their first manned flight in a heavier-than-air craft slightly less than six years before.

Ford's Model T had been on the market for less than a year.

But even as the world pushed the door open into the 20th Century, pieces of the 19th Century lingered.

Her parents were Herman and Daisy Kutz, and they made their living farming.

Ida's first home was on Krueger Road near Springfield. The house is long gone and land is part of a subdivision, said Ronald, 75.

Farm life was hard for the Kutzes.

Ronald said his grandfather owned five different farms in the area.

He lost four of them through crop failures.

Ida said her family farm-raised everything: pigs, cows, vegetables and fruit trees all on about 130 acres.

When she was old enough for school, Ida walked two miles to a one-room school house in north Springfield, where a teacher taught children from grades one through eight.

Ida said the homes in which she grew up had no electricity. Light was provided by oil lamps. Running water came from an outdoor pump, and none of those houses was complete without an outhouse.

She said she remembers splitting logs into quarters for the wood burning stove, which cooked the meals and kept the house warm in winter.

"I remember a big log, and we had to split it and bring it in for the stove," she said.

She learned to drive a horse and buggy before she learned to drive a car.

Family farming is a year-round job, Ida said.

She recalled that on days when it snowed, the family would take milk loaded in 10-gallon cans to the creamery in Springfield by horse-drawn sled.

The snowstorms would often bury fences and obliterate landmarks. The family had to be careful that fences and posts buried under the snow wouldn't tip the bobsleds and their precious cargo of milk, she said.

On one occasion, that's exactly what happened. Ida said the family lost all of its milk in the snow when the bobsled struck a snow-buried fence and tipped.

The lost milk represented a day's pay, she said.

After grade school, Ida went to Lake Geneva High School and graduated in 1927.

She said she usually got rides from a neighbor and doesn't remember having to walk during her high school years.

Early out of high school, Ida moved to Chicago to find work. There, she worked at a real estate firm for seven years.

It was in Chicago that she met her husband, Robert Lavin. Robert Lavin worked for the Chicago power utility, Commonwealth Edison.

The Lavins moved to Lake Geneva shortly after their marriage, where Robert Lavin took a job with Wisconsin Power & Light Co.

Ronald said the family first lived at 633 Geneva St., where a bank now stands.

The Lavins then moved to a house at 1211 Wisconsin St., which is still in the family.

In addition to working for Wisconsin Power & Light, Robert Lavin was also a volunteer firefighter, who would drive the fire chief to fire calls.

Ronald also served as a volunteer in the Lake Geneva Fire Department for 23 years.

While Robert worked for Wisconsin Power & Light, Ida was working at Chaney Instruments.

She worked at Chaney's downtown manufacturing plant for 35 years, rising to the position of production supervisor.

She said when she retired, the company threw her a retirement party at the Geneva Hotel in Lake Geneva.

Ida Lavin is part of a growing population of centenarians in this country.

The total of those 100 or older living in the United States was reported to be 53,364 according to the 2010 census.

Ida is a part of the majority demographic, with most American centenarians identifying themselves as female and white.

She is fortunate to be among that part of the centenarian population that is mentally and socially active.

According to a study by the University of Georgia, "20 to 25 percent of centenarians are community-dwelling, cognitively intact and generally vibrant and full of life"

If there is a downside to living this long, it is keeping track of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

It takes a call from Ronald to his daughter to get the grands and greats straight, but the final tally is as follows:

Grandchildren are Vicki, Brenda and Ron II, children of Ron Lavin, Ida and Robert Lavin's only child.

Great-grandchildren are Melissa, Jessica and Ian. Great-great-grandchildren are Jerrick, Marlie and Macie.

All live in the area and stay in touch, Ronald said.

Age takes its toll on everyone, but Ida doesn't let a few years stand between her and civic duty.

The family has lovingly saved a Regional News photo of Ida casting a ballot at city hall in April 2010, when she was just 101. Ida said she voted in the last presidential election, and she plans to vote again this spring.

According to Ronald, she also drove until she was 99.

A member of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lake Geneva, Ida would drive her friends to volunteer activities and dinners at the church, Ronald said.

Family concerns about her age led her to retire her car keys five years ago, Ronald said. She left with a spotless driving record.

She never had an accident nor was she ever ticketed, he said.

The last car she drove was, appropriately enough, a 1995 Buick Century.

On Feb. 5, Ida and 11 family and friends gathered at the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva to celebrate her 104th birthday.

Pizza, chicken and special birthday cake with strawberry filling, garnished with yellow, blue and red frosting flowers were on the menu.

Did she have any of the Pub's pizza?

"I wouldn't miss that," Ida said.

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