TRAER — This past Sunday, Jan. 15, Kathleen Keefer radiated the warmth and joy of a life well lived as she welcomed both family and friends to her 100th birthday celebration held at the Traer Public Library.
Keefer, who has called Traer home for the last 14 years, officially celebrated a century of life on Jan. 17.
“I feel wonderful,” Keefer said as she greeted party guests. “The nicest part of all of this is all the grandkids and great-grands.”
With her three children by her side on Sunday — sons Robert ‘Bob’ Keefer of Raleigh, N.C. and Pastor Mark Keefer of Traer, and daughter Sue Swinehart of Ft. Collins, Colo. — Keefer never once stopped smiling as the party room filled to capacity.
“They’re all young at heart,” Jill Sealock, one of Keefer’s five grandchildren, said of her grandmother and the three Keefer children when asked what she pegs as the secret to Keefer’s 100 years of longevity — a statement repeated by many in attendance at the party.
Posed with the question herself, the birthday girl didn’t hesitate: “Being active. I’ve always been active. I remember even as a kid I’d be out bright and early looking for my dad and he’d be bringing the cattle in.”
Keefer — one of six children — and her twin brother Kenneth, who lived to be 90, were born on a farm outside of Omaha, Neb. to Joseph and Anna Hiltabidel. As a young woman, she married Samuel Keefer — they later divorced — and the family moved extensively as part of Samuel’s career in hospital administration including to Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio, Sioux City and finally Waterloo in 1966.
“Prior to her divorce she was a hardworking mother and wife, volunteering at hospitals, churches, and as a den mother in cub scouting,” Mark Keefer wrote as part of his mother’s birthday party announcement. “After the divorce, she worked in Waterloo at Sears, Ramada Inn, Cedar Falls School System, Schultz Mfg., and her deepest joy — Hawkeye Valley Area Agency on Aging.”
Keefer’s work at the agency on aging brought her particular joy, Mark said, because she was able to help people find meaning in their lives through employment.
About 14 years ago, she moved to Traer to be near Mark and his family. She still lives on her own in an independent living apartment and remains active as ever visiting the library three times a week for strength-training classes geared toward older adults.
She also continues to enjoy life, something her family members see as key to both her longevity and good health.
“Strong coffee in the morning, scotch and water in the afternoon,” Mark said with a laugh when describing his mother’s ‘secret’ to life. “And if she has nothing better to do, she makes banana bread. She also loves vegetables.”
Keefer’s granddaughter Abigail Keefer also cites her grandmother’s love of the outdoors as part of the reason behind her ability to stay young at heart all these years.
“Yes, always a happy grandma,” Abigail said. “We’d go on trips with her to Michigan … she had a cabin [in Iowa] where we’d fish … She cleaned the fish.”
Abigail said her grandma would also hunt pheasant.
As Keefer gave out hug after hug to party guests on Sunday, she marveled to many at how incredible it was to live a century while also admitting it happened in a flash.
“Those years sure crept up on me and I just don’t know (how),” she said to a party guest as one of her nine great-grandchildren zoomed past her legs. “I keep wondering, who else is going to show up from my past!”
After 100 years, her joy lights up the lives of many more than just her own.