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DPHHS Honors Montana Centenarians

Montana centenarians were honored last week in Great Falls at the Holiday Inn Convention Center ballroom during a special luncheon.

“Montana centenarians are absolute treasures,” Department of Public Health and Human Services director Charlie Brereton said. “They have lived life to the fullest and bring so many life experiences with them. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing individuals and learn about their incredible lives.”

The luncheon was part of the 54th annual Governor’s Conference on Aging with the theme “Aging Unbound.”

DPHHS officials recently asked Montana centenarians about their secret to longevity, the most amazing event in their lives, favorite quotes and various other insights. All the centenarians who responded will receive a recognition proclamation from Gov. Gianforte.

The DPHHS list of centenarians include those who are or will become 100 years old by the end of 2023. The list includes one 107-yearold, one 106-year-old, two 105-year-olds, four 102-yearolds, six 101-year-olds and 21 100-year-olds. They include: Nelson Seeley, 102, and Eva Seeley, 100, Helena. The couple met in 1949 and were married just before he was deployed during World War II. They recently celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary.

Nelson Seeley served in the Army Air Corps during WWII. He eventually became the director of the IRS in Montana, which led him and his family to settle in Helena in 1958. Nelson’s love for sports, especially Carroll College basketball and golf, has remained with him throughout his life. Even at the impressive age of 102, he still attends Carroll basketball home games and enjoyed playing golf until he was 98.

Eva Seeley worked as a secretary in the Chrysler building before the war. After moving to Helena, she joined the secretarial pool for the Legislature in Montana during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, further showcasing her work ethic and skills.

Donna Maria Gonzalez Gandara, 107, Whitefish. She has maintained a very active lifestyle even as she ages, and she still enjoys driving her vehicle and cutting grass on her riding lawnmower at the age of 107. Her secret to longevity, she believes, is a positive and humble attitude, a strong faith in God, hard work and having a big heart.

Paul von Reichert, age 102, Missoula. Von Reichert joined the Navy and was assigned to a destroyer in the Pacific Theater, specifically participating in battles near Alaska’s Dutch Harbor. Their unit was saved by the thick fog that provided cover during the battle. The conditions were intense, with the fog and rough seas making the fight even more challenging. Paul served in the Navy throughout the entirety of WWII, from 1941 to 1945.

Lorraine Blank, 100, Billings. Blank embarked on a journey that would see her contribute significantly to the war effort during World War II. Her journey took her to Seattle, Wash., where she played a crucial role in the war effort by installing fuel lines in B-17 bombers. Her work contributed directly to the aviation and defense industries, supporting the efforts of the United States during the war. Her patriotism and dedication led her to join the Navy as a Seaman First Class during WWII.

Leo Pattison, 100, Havre. In his 20s, Pattison survived a serious car accident that resulted in a broken back. Despite the initial prognosis that he might never walk again, he made a remarkable recovery and was able to lead a full life. He served in the military during World War II and was stationed at Bataan in the Philippines. Leo’s father lived to be 104.

Jim Epsy, 100, Broadus. Epsy was not just a rancher; he was also deeply involved in his community, participating in 4-H and roping. In 1970, he initiated the Espy Team Roping event, which grew to become one of the largest team roping events in the Northwest during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Jim and his wife Nancy’s dedication and contributions to their local and state communities earned them a place in the Montana Cowboy/Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

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