Log In

Reset Password

101-year-old woman’s secret to longevity: ‘I ate dirt’

At 101 years old, Josephine “Jo Jo” Goellner doesn’t rely on a walker or a cane when she’s at her house or at places like the Tamaqua Area Adult Day Care Center.

“She doesn’t walk. She runs,” said the center’s assistant director, Colleen Killian, smiling.

“I can barely keep up with her.”

Goellner was just as spry Monday when the center threw her a birthday party with flowers, signs and balloons to mark her 101st year.

“Oh, my goodness,” she said, and quickly rose from her seat to blow kisses. “I love you all.”

Goellner, who lives near Lehighton, was born April 3, 1921, and spent a portion of her childhood living in Italy.

“My mother died. My father didn’t have any family in the states to help raise us, so we were shipped to Italy,” she recalled.

She, a sister and a brother stayed with her grandmother in the small village of Sarmede at the base of the Alps.

“In Italy, if someone is down and out, they are never alone. Even though you are not related to them, people want to help you,” she said.

She attended school in Italy, where girls were taught by nuns and boys were taught by priests. Instructors were strict, she recalled, and no one ever dared misbehave.

Goellner eventually returned to the United States, attended school until eighth grade and found work at a textile mill.

“I worked with a lot of machinery. There were looms. I remember all the white lint that would be in the air, and when I would come home, my hair was white from the lint,” she said. “It’s a wonder it did not harm my lungs.”

She met her husband, Howard Goellner, before he was sent to fight in World War II. He lived a few blocks from her in her New Jersey neighborhood, a place where Goellner said Italians, Irish, Hungarians and other ethnicities got along like family.

“He came home, thank God,” Goellner said.

The couple raised a family while she worked at Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary in Raritan, New Jersey. She retired at the age of 72.

Her daughter, Judy Paterson, with whom she lives, said her mother always enjoyed traveling. She visited her family in Italy about 10 years ago, and has been to Spain, Morocco and other countries.

What Goellner doesn’t enjoy doing - or at least Paterson never saw her do - is exercise.

“She never exercised,” Paterson laughed. “I say, ‘How do you make it so long without exercise?”

Goellner has an idea what might have helped with her longevity.

“I ate dirt,” she said.

After seeing her center friends’ startled expressions, Goellner explained.

“When I was in Italy, you ate the dirt. There was dirt on the potatoes and the vegetables. You didn’t wear shoes. You had dirty hands. We developed an immunity to things,” she said.

Her sister will celebrate her 100th birthday in July.

“Not many people get to be my age,” Goellner said, “And I feel good.”

Josephine “Jo Jo” Goellner celebrates her 101st birthday Monday at the Tamaqua Area Adult Day Care Center. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS