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103-year-old seeks normalcy

By Lucas Lord
Having turned 103 on Sunday, Harrisonville centurion Mildred Duncan has witnessed the aftermath of two pandemics, the Spanish Flu and COVID-19. While previously very active at the senior center, COVID has changed everything for Duncan.

“These last few years have been really strange for me,” Duncan said. “This virus really came in and just rained on my life. I’m so used to being able to go to the senior center for everything, now I don’t. I used to drive up there almost every day to play cards and eat meals with friends, but they don’t have meals anymore and hardly anyone shows up for cards.”

Living on her own, Duncan said going to the senior center used to be the highlight of her day, something she misses greatly.

“I’ve lost contact with friends because of it,” she said. “Yes, I still talk to them occasionally, but we don’t visit like we used to. We don’t get together anymore because we are afraid we might give someone something or get someone sick. We try to be really cautious. I have my cell phone and I can talk to them on that, but it’s not the same.”

Enjoying a brief return to normalcy during her birthday party, Duncan said it was incredibly fun getting to spend the Superbowl with her daughter and son.

“We just had an absolutely wonderful time together,” she said. “At my age, every birthday is a surprise so it was nice to see them both, even if the Chiefs weren’t playing, which made me very upset. I’m not a Rams fan at all, it made watching the game terrible at times. Anytime I can see my kids and we all be together I try to do that. At my age, every time you get together is a time to remember.”

Larry Duncan, Mildred’s son, said it was wonderful getting to spend another birthday with his mother.

“Every birthday of hers that we get to spend together is an absolute blessing,” said Larry. “She’s getting older, but there’s never been more life in her. Only a couple of times during her birthday did she say she was getting tired, so I think we had a really wonderful time. She was upset that the Chief’s weren’t playing in the Superbowl, but we still had a fun time together.”

According to Duncan, her family went to great lengths to provide for her during the worst parts of the pandemic and have continued to stay involved in her day-to-day life.

“My family was worried about me catching COVID, so they started bringing me my groceries and food,” Duncan said. “My son visits twice a week and I talk with him every day. I talk to my daughter in the morning around about 9:30 a.m. when I’m up. I call my son every night at 9:30 p.m. to tell him that I’ve had a good day and I’m ready to go to bed. I think we’ve come up with a really good schedule. It helps keep me on my toes.”

While she misses her friends at the senior center, Mildred isn’t entirely alone at home. After her husband, Leonard Walter Duncan, died 19 years ago, Duncan said she found new companionship in a stray kitten her son Larry brought home one day.

“My cat is 18 years old now,” she said. “One day my son Larry brought it inside and he and his boy Lakota, who was about 4 years old at the time, had the little thing wrapped up in a blanket. They had just washed and blow dried it, so he was super fluffy and yellow. At first, I said, ‘Larry, I don’t want this cat, I don’t need this cat.’ He said he was just going to leave it with me for the week while he found somewhere to take it. When he came back a week later, I had already decided to keep it and we’ve lived together happily ever since.”

With her cat keeping her company throughout the day, Duncan said she encourages other older people living by themselves to find pets of their own.

“They are great company and a great source of companionship,” she said. “It’s important to not be alone. No one should ever be alone. The older you get the more important friends and family become.”

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