Margarete Stahl Wilkin Hicken
"Maggie," "Margie," "Mags," "Margee" Hicken has accumulated at least as many close friends as she has years (102). And many of them have nicknames for her.
She was born in Pforzheim, Germany, in 1906 and emigrated alone to the United States as a young woman.
In 1939, she started a long career as a comptometer operator at Zions Bank in Salt Lake City, from which she retired 32 years later. A comptometer was a type of electro-mechanical adding machine in which the operator pressed the keys (depending on the machine there could be from 30 to 100 in vertical and horizontal columns, according to Wikipedia) to do large calculations in a precomputer world.
She married George Wilkin, who had a long career as a cost accountant with Utah Oil. He died in 1979. Six years later, she married Dr. N. Frederick Hicken, a surgeon. He was 84 and she was 78. He died Christmas 1998 at age 98, and she's been determinedly independent ever since, though she's surrounded herself with a whole "village" of friends and has frequent guests.
During World War II, as reports swirled about bombings, including in her hometown, she was for long periods of time unable to contact her family in Germany to be sure they were doing all right. She lost a brother who was a soldier sent to Russia during that war. And her father died in 1948. She talked her remaining immediate family her sister Nellie and her mom into coming to the United States, where they settled near her in Salt Lake City. Her mom died, just months shy of reaching her own centennial birthday, in 1978. Nellie died in 1991 at age 90.
Hicken is a bright and cheerful woman who loves to watch the noon news every day but got tired of watching the national political conventions this summer because they were "tedious." She manages her own life, from doing her laundry to paying her bills, but a willing contingent of friends helps with shopping and trips to the doctor.
She has surrounded herself with friends, including members of her late husband's family, who clearly love her. At a birthday party Oct. 15, about a hundred of her nearest and dearest gathered to gently toast and roast the woman. A former swim instructor reminisced about how Hicken took up swimming as an octogenarian she gave it up at age 99. She has always been willing to try new things."I don't see as well or run as fast as I used to," she jokes. But she can do a mean chicken dance, as guests at her party found out.
Chances are, Tierney is in Japan as you read this. He has for several months been planning to lead a group of Utahns on a tour of the country that has been as woven into his life as has his own United States. And at age 96, he still teaches Japanese gardening in Utah and serves as a curator for a small Japanese museum in San Diego.
As important as Japan is to the nonagenarian, he's pretty important to Japan, as well. In November 2007, the emperor presented Tierney with the "Order of the Rising Sun," reportedly Japan's highest honor in the field of arts and crafts. The award conferred honorary citizenship.
The love affair with Japan and its arts and culture began when he was young. He earned a doctorate in art and learned Japanese, two skills that caught Gen. Douglas MacArthur's eye when Tierney was assigned to his office at the end of World War II. He asked Tierney to serve as arts and monuments commissioner, a role designed to soothe relationships after the war. The job entailed, among other things, inventorying important art that had been damaged in the war and arranging to have it restored.
That took a couple of years, then Tierney headed up the art department in America's largest school district, which happened to be in Japan at the time. The problem was, with no arts or music programs, American children were graduating from the American schools in Japan but could not get into American colleges because they lacked units in art.
Along the way, he chased and won his wife, Catherine, whom he met at a party in South Pasadena in the mid-1940s. After a long and very international courtship she, too, was working overseas they married in Germany. "Our first marriage only lasted one week," he jokes, because the very formal German ceremony, overseen by the town burgermeister as required, wasn't what they'd had in mind. "We drove to Holland and got married properly among friends," he adds.
For two-plus decades, he was professor of Japanese studies at the University of California, in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. He and Catherine had a son, and in their spare time they created their own beautiful Japanese garden.
But Utah was about to come into their lives in the form of a University of Utah dean who just happened to attend one of Tierney's Thursday night lectures while visiting a friend. He said the U. needed an orientalist and wooed Tierney to the U., where he became associate dean in the college of fine arts.
Long after Tierney retired, his students have continued to seek him out. A group of them meets with their former professor for monthly lunches. In the meantime, though, his wife's health declined. She died recently of Alzheimer's disease.
She spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home called Hazen, after her full-time care became too much for Tierney. She was 87. Tierney and their son, Steven, had managed her disease and cared for her for more than five years after she was diagnosed.
Tierney's health regimen is simple: a baby aspirin, a multivitamin and staying active. He shovels his own snow, teaches, drives and is generally very busy. Older men who slow down, he believes, don't do very well.
"My theory is, you should never retire. But if you have a pension, take it. My other belief is, admit your age and ask, are there any perks for the elderly? If there are, I want them right now," he jokes.