Centenarian did a lot of living in Janesville

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Friday, January 7, 2011
— Vila Bauer of Janesville died Dec. 29, 107 years to the day after she was born.

Family gathered that day at St. Elizabeth's Nursing Home for her birthday party. They knew she didn't have much time left.

Bauer had faded fast in her last few days, but granddaughter Deb Saunders believes her grandmother, very proud of her longevity, knew she had made it to 107.

"I believe she heard us. We sang 'Happy Birthday' to her," Saunders recalled. "It was a wonderful day for all of us. A sad day, but a wonderful day, because she lived a wonderful life, she really did."

We'll never know if Bauer actually decided that her time had come.

"I don't know if it was a conscious thing," Saunders said. "She went into what we feel was a semi coma for a couple days. We kept telling her birthday was coming."

"I do believe she wanted be here for that very special 107th birthday," she said.

When interviewed for a Gazette article in January 2006, Bauer appeared in relatively good health and talked about her youth growing up on the Great Plains. She remembered the excitement when electric lights first illuminated her parents' home. She fondly recalled riding horses, saying she would love to ride again.

She never did.

Saunders said Bauer's health began to fail about two years ago. She lost much of her short-term memory, but until the very end she recognized visitors.

She got very tired, "and you know, rightly so. She was worn out, basically," Saunders said.

When she began to lose her balance, the family moved her from an assisted-living facility to St. Elizabeth's.

"She absolutely loved it there, was very active with all the activities they had, played bingo all the time, put puzzles together," Saunders said. "She was a very active, very social woman."

Saunders visited her on Christmas Eve and talked to her about her upcoming birthday. She ate well that day but the next day stopped eating and drinking, Saunders said.

The staff doubted she would live to see 107, "but she surprised us," Saunders said.

Saunders recalled her grandmother as fun-loving, fearless and strong.

She birthed all her children at home. The only time she was in a hospital was in 2007 when she broke a hip.

"She had to endure a lot of hardships through her life," Saunders said.

Bauer's own mother died at age 42. Bauer lost her lost oldest son in World War II, when he was 19. Another son died in his 40s.

Bauer has two surviving children: Cecil, 84, and Roger, 80, both of Janesville.

Bauer and her husband, Albert, moved from South Dakota to a farm west of Janesville in 1926. When Albert died in 1976, she moved into the city.

Many Janesville public school students might remember her. She cooked lunch at Marshall Junior High School from 1965 to 1969.

Bauer lived at Golden Acres in Janesville for more than 25 years. She lived on the second floor.

"She would take her laundry into the basement, and she would climb the stairs and carry her laundry. She made sure she kept herself in shape."

She rode the city bus every day until she was 99, Saunders said. Often, her trips were to the Janesville Senior Center, where she loved to play cards, especially euchre and 500.

"She was there almost every day, and I do believe that was part of what kept her going," Saunders said.

"She always had a smile on her face. She always saw the good side of everything. She was not a judging person. When you think about a warm, loving, hugging kind of grandma, that would be her," Saunders said.

"She was just a wonderful person and an inspiration to her family, the way she lived her life and the love and the care she gave to everybody."

Services were held Monday, and Bauer was taken to her final resting place, Milton Lawns Memorial Park, Janesville.

"We were just grateful that we as her family had her as long as we did," Saunders said.

Bauer told the Gazette in 2006 that she had no regrets.

"I just lived my life," she said, "and everything just fell in just right."

Last updated: 4:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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