On Feb. 13, 2018, Bonnetta Poli turned 100 years old. Treasured by her small family of four, they gathered to celebrate a life well-lived. They ate cake, told stories, shared memories, and laughed, because Grandma Poli continues to enjoy a funny story or joke.
The family also read her birthday cards (close to 100 of them) from various friends, family, and state officials, along with cards from several Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield employees.
“She always did whatever she had to do to make her life better — to make our life better — growing up,” says Poli's daughter, Kay Gomez. “It is such a simple thing, really, but it is what I admire most about her. She just kept going.”
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That part of the story hasn’t changed. At 100, Poli just kept going, despite setbacks and various health concerns.
“Every year, mom tells us she probably won’t be here next year. But guess what? She is still here, and she continues to hold on and find joy in daily living,” says Gomez.
Decades of change
Being 100 years old, Poli has seen a lot of change. She grew up in the depression as one of five children; she is the last to survive.
Poli married and had two daughters. Early on, she cleaned other people’s homes and did their laundry to make money. She painted walls for income, and became quite skilled at hanging custom wallpaper. She cared for a large garden and farm animals to provide food. She canned vegetables, was an incredible cook, an accomplished seamstress and quilter. Eventually, she worked for the school board, was a cook at the school, then took a nurses’ aid class and worked at a care center.
Sisters Margaret, Virginia, and Bonnetta enjoying a moment more than 40 years ago.
Celebrate a life well-lived
To honor her 100-year-old mother, Bonnetta Poli, daughter Kay Gomez gives us a little insight into her life.
Who Poli would have liked to get a birthday card from, but didn't:
Justin Bieber. I guess it just wasn’t in the cards. She really does enjoy Justin Bieber, though.
Painting rooms with bright colors, anything related to Elvis, and old country music.
Her husband, Albert, who was the love of her life. When his health began to fail, she cared for him until he died at age 81. Losing him proved to be a very lonely road.
She could paint anything and make it look fabulous. She even painted our refrigerator.
Recipes she perfected:
Homemade divinity and fudge. Also, chocolate meringue pie. She always added food coloring to the meringue. I believed it was pink until adulthood, when I learned it was actually white.
We call her a “rubber biscuit” because she always bounces back. Over the years, she has looked death in the face on many occasions. She has fallen a few times, but has never broken a bone.
A simple celebration
Poli's 100th birthday was her first spent in a care center. In November, Gomez, decided it was time to move mom closer, to a care center near her home in Ottumwa, Iowa. Shortly before the move, Poli had lost much of her hearing. Gomez had been traveling an hour to Poli’s home in Centerville, Iowa, every week to help with grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry and appointments. Poli’s loss of hearing, however, was the catalyst for change. They decided it was time to get around-the-clock care.
“She seems to enjoy the attention and extra pampering she receives at the care center," says Gomez. "But, we all know life is too short, and I see her aging more quickly now.”
Almost 60 years of coverage
Poli is among Wellmark’s oldest Medicare supplement members. She has always valued her health insurance, which was a “gift” from her husband, Albert, “the best man in the world.” She’s been a member for about 58 years, more or less. She can’t remember a time when her insurance wasn’t there for her.
Sisters Virginia, Margaret, and Bonnetta Poli pose for a photo with their father, Roy Zimmerman, in 1967. Poli's granddaughter, Kelley, is next to Roy.
“Four generations of my family have had Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield coverage, for a total of 155 years of coverage. The type of protection they provide has saved us in many health-related situations,” says Gomez.
"Through tests, surgeries and hospital stays, no matter how tough times were financially, my mom and dad always made sure to keep their Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield coverage. For that, we're all thankful."
Kay Gomez Daughter of Bonnetta Poli
It's your turn
Today, this week, or this month, make an effort to get to know your older loved ones even better. Talk to a neighbor, a friend or a family member you would like to know more about. Ask questions, take time to listen, and commemorate the little things that make us who we are; the little things that have a big impact on others.
Tell us your story
How do you stay healthy, physically or mentally? How are you living your life with purpose? Share your story with other Blue readers. Simply send us an email Send Email and be sure to include your name and phone number.
You can also mail your story to:
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue ShieldP.O. Box 9232, Station 3W642 Des Moines, IA 50306-9232
Update: Bonnetta Poli passed away peacefully in late May 2018, shortly before this article was published. The family wished to honor her with this account of Poli's life and her 100th birthday celebration. "This story will honor my mother, and keep her memory alive," says Gomez. "She will be greatly missed."