Centenarians reminisce on a century of changes


Centenarian Richard Hanson was born and raised in Montana. He lives inthe Rainbow Assisted Living with Eda, his wife of 75 years.

Kendra Hix, Opinion Editor

Behind the scarred hands and wrinkled faces lies a substantial number of memories, a lifetime’s worth. For Andre (Andy) Kukay, it’s a life that has left him with few regrets.

“I just had it made. I didn’t care about anything else,” he said. “I made a name for myself and got into the service.”

Kukay is one of many centenarians residing in the Great Falls area who have spent most of their lives in Montana.

Kukay was born in Stockett on Nov. 25, 1912, and he lived there with his family until he was 15. He then set off for Great Falls and began working in order to send paychecks back home. Due to Kukay being the second oldest son in his family, he wasn’t able to go to college because they couldn’t afford it. However, he is completely satisfied with how his life turned out.

“[I went through the] 8th grade. That was required,” he said. “Back then, we all went into the service.”

Kukay is a World War II veteran, though he wasn’t in the action. Instead, Kukay was satisfied working behind the scenes on the planes, which were a major part of his life and his passion, he said.

“I was a fanatic. Flying through the mountains. It was really something,” he said.

Kukay became enthralled with airplanes at a young age. He saw the first airplane to ever fly over Stockett in 1917. Another key piece that influenced Kukay’s interest in aircraft was when he first listened over radio to Charles Lindberg’s trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

“That was top evidence there,” he said.

According to Kukay, the ingenuity and sheer brilliance that went into the creation of airplanes was amazing. In September 2012, Kukay took his very last plane ride on the “Honor Flight” to Washington, D.C. for WWII veterans and was amazed at the technology that had been added to planes since he last flew. Kukay was the second oldest person on the flight, and he loved every minute.

“It was wonderful. Everything was wonderful, just immaculate,” he said. “I thought [the airplanes] were a marvel, simply a marvel.”

In addition to other changes, there have been many reforms since Kukay was born, especially involving women’s role in society. Women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920 when he was 8 years old. Today, now women could, in the near future, be drafted. Even though Kukay grew up in a time where this idea wasn’t in sight, he believes in equality.

“If a woman or a person wants to help out, more power for them because I think it’s a wonderful and a great thing. They should do something anyways, and when they volunteer? That’s doing it all,” he said.

Along with modernization comes technology, which has transformed greatly from when Kukay was a child. It fascinates him to this day.

“Truthfully, it beats everything, the things they can do today,” he said.

However, as the world continues to live by the contemporary philosophy of “out with the old, in with the new,” Kukay disagrees, stating that some things were better as they were, specifically the Al-Cazar theater, once located on Central Avenue. Kukay met his wife, Alta Marie, at the theater many years ago.

“I don’t know why they’ve done away with it. They just can’t think at all,” he said. “There’s a lot there and you just pass up on it like it’s nothing. It’s a strange world.”

Fellow centenarian DeLima (Dee) Kendall agrees.

“I think now there are so many things available,” she said. “Everything has gone to the other extreme.”

Kendall was born in Crary, N.D. on Feb. 24, 1912 but moved to Great Falls 29 years later with her husband, John, for work. Kendall went through high school and then to a two-year teachers college in order to teach, which she did for 20 years.

“My first teaching job was in Devils Lake, N.D. I was the janitor. I was the teacher. I was the disciplinarian. I was everything,” she said. “I taught in a rural school for all eight grades, but there weren’t usually enough students in each grade.”

According to Kendall, she taught kindergarten through 8th grade in a one-room school house when she was about 19 years old.

Kendall was seen as “ahead of her time” by being a teacher and was highly regarded in the community she lived in.

“The parents were very supportive of the teachers,” she said.

Like the parents of her students, Kendall’s own parents were supportive of her moving on to college and were extremely proud of her, she said. In tougher times, according to Kendall, her parents made sacrifices to pay her tuition, which was expensive at the time.

One thing that was challenging for her parents was the impact of the Great Depression.

According to Kendall, the day before the Stock Market crashed on Black Tuesday, Kendall’s father, a farmer, took that year’s earnings and put them into the bank only to lose all of his yearly yield the very next day.

“[During the Great Depression], nobody had a great more than the poorest people,” she said.

The Great Depression isn’t the only major worldly event that impacted her. WWII also had a great impact.

Kendall’s husband, John, was in the Construction Battalion of the Navy during WWII. They married in Nov. and he was drafted a mere two months later.

“He was in the South Pacific for two years,” she said. “It was pretty rough.”

Due to focus on her schooling, Kendall married later in life, which was unusual for the time period and according to her, it’s one of her few regrets. However, even with that simple regret she wouldn’t change a thing, claiming that her two daughters were her greatest success.

Centenarian Richard Hanson has many moments in his life he would consider successes and getting a full ride, three year scholarship to Bozeman, MT was one of them.

“In, 34’, when I was there, the enrollment was 1800 students,” he said.

Hanson was born in Whitehall, Montana into a ranching family. His father also supported his family by trapping which he instilled as a life-long passion in his son.

“Trapping was a cold and miserable kind of work but I liked every bit of it,” Hanson said.

Hanson worked for the Anaconda Company for 14 years with paid wages and the ability to work at something he truly loves. In 1996, Hanson made the choice to give up trapping at the age of 85.

“I realized I was getting older and weaker. I began to lose my equilibrium,” he said.

According to Hanson, having to give up trapping was difficult but not near as tough as when he had to make the choice to move to Great Falls. Hanson and his wife, Eda, have lived together in the Rainbow Senior Living Center for about a year now.

“It was for safety,” he said.

Hanson and his wife have been married for 75 years after meeting each other on a blind date.

“I was 27 when I got married,” he said. “[Our marriage] is pretty good. You’ve got to live that long together and get along that long too.”

For Hanson, his relationship with Eda is very important to him.

“You have to work together. You both give in and you trust each other. We didn’t doubt each other,” he said. “Our kids are lovable in the same way.”

Together they had four children, all of which were exposed to the great outdoors and, of course, trapping.

“[As the generations of family modernize, trapping is] getting a little bit lost. I don’t like it, but what can you do? Life has changed,” he said.

Even with all of the changes he has seen in his life, Hanson would live it again and again.

“I had a wonderful life,” he said. “If I had to live it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”