What’s the secret to living to 110?
There is considerable excitement among family and friends about her upcoming 110th birthday on July 25, but Ulla Lund is taking the milestone in stride.
“It’s a big one,” Lund said matter-of-factly. “I realize I’m getting quite old.”
Next week, Lund’s former neighbors from Farmcrest Avenue in Lexington — where she lived from 1943 until moving to Meadow Green Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Waltham six years ago — are bringing an ice cream cake, per their annual tradition since Lund turned 100. More than 20 family members will host a second party the following weekend, including three grandchildren who are traveling from Alaska and Hawaii for the occasion honoring their “Famor” (Danish for “Father’s mother”).
Peter Lund, the only child of Ulla and Svend Lund, says his mother is deserving of the attention due to her impressive age, but also her legendary thoughtfulness. Every Christmas, for example, she used to bake upwards of 500 Danish cookies, the majority of which were boxed up and delivered to neighbors.
“There might be a bit of reciprocity involved [with the annual ice cream party],” joked Lund, 80, of Lexington. “I think it’s pretty neat that my mother has achieved all these years, and she’s still very much with it.”
Lund was born in a small village in Denmark in 1907, the third oldest of Knud and Anina Vistisen’s eight children. Her many happy childhood memories include hearing her father’s spurs (worn because of his position in the Danish cavalry) scraping against the stairs, her mother making her clothes and being “the best cook in the world,” and the family joining hands and circling the Christmas tree while singing carols.
“Afterward, we got presents,” she recalled. “They were little, but to us, it meant the world.”
In 1924, a 16-year-old Lund attended a party and met the young man she would go on to marry.
“It was love at first sight,” Lund said of Svend in a video recorded for her 100th birthday. “We walked everywhere we went, and always took the longest way home, because that was part of the fun.”
Svend emigrated to Boston and Lund followed in 1925, arriving on Washington’s Birthday — a holiday on which longshoremen did not work, which prevented the ship’s passengers from disembarking until the following day. Although Lund had studied English prior to the journey, she attended language classes in her adopted country and expanded her vocabulary through crossword puzzles — which she still enjoys working on with her son.
“She usually beats me,” Peter Lund noted.
Lund worked as a mother’s helper for $7 a week, plus room and board, for a Lexington woman who lent her fur coat for Lund’s movie dates with her new fiancée. After she and Svend married in 1927, Lund then borrowed a wedding dress and bouquet (which she couldn’t afford) for their formal photograph in Boston.
The couple rented an apartment for many years in Arlington, where Lund took the bus to the grocer, dairy, and butcher. Milk in glass bottles was delivered to her door, the iceman brought ice for her icebox, and the pig farmer took her garbage to feed to his hogs.
When the Lunds moved to Lexington, they paid $4,200 for their first and only home. Svend, a roofer who went door to door offering to clean gutters during the Depression, died of cancer shortly after the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1976.
Lund, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1930, proudly voted in every U.S. presidential election since casting her first ballot for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Despite her love for her adopted country, Lund never forgot her roots and returned to Denmark with Svend in 1936 and with Peter in 1950.
In addition to her close-knit family, which includes five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, Lund also enjoys regular visits from former neighbors — one of whom recently moved into Meadow Green.
Asked for the secrets to her long life, Lund said she avoided alcohol, did not inhale the few Herbert Tareyton cigarettes she smoked socially, and overall led a life of moderation.
According to Dr. Thomas Perls, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, an estimated 350 supercentenarians (age 110 and older) are alive worldwide at any given time, including 60 to 70 in the United States. Ninety percent are women.
The oldest person on earth is believed to be 117-year-old Violet Brown of Jamaica, who was born on March 10, 1900. The oldest-ever recorded person on the planet was Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 years, 164 days until her death on Aug. 4, 1997.
Perls said his research indicates that supercentenarians are healthy for most of their lives.
“It’s not a matter of the older you get, the sicker you get, but the older you get, the healthier you’ve been,” Perls said.
That is certainly the case with Lund, who only moved from her home to Meadow Green at age 103 on the advice of her physician.
“I feel good,” Lund said. “I’m blessed with good health.”