Jean Holzhausen sat quietly in a comfy armchair in her winter home in Sebring, an electric blanket underneath her to guard against a chill. She turned 100 on Dec. 3.
Holzhausen and her daughter, Julie Creed, who lives with her, are snowbirds from Pennsylvania. Holzhausen is a member of the Garden Club of Sebring as well as a garden club up north. A retired nurse of 50 years, Holzhausen also grew up on and ran a fruit farm in her home town of North East, Pa.
"(The farm) meant a lot to me because I grew up on it. When I was a little girl, I began picking cherries first. Eating cherries!" the elderly woman said merrily.
"Big, black, sweet cherries!" she added.
Holzhausen had always wanted to be a nurse, but after starting nursing school in Cleveland, her father became ill, and she had to go home to help her mother with the farm. Eventually she went back to school to become an R.N., married Julian Holzhausen and had Julie and two sons.
Julian joined the service in 1941 and served during World War II until 1946. Around the same time, Holzhausen's father passed away and she returned to help her mother with the farm. Holzhausen remembers that German prisoners of war were used as farmhands for several years.
"They were brought every morning and every night from a camp south of town on German Road," Holzhausen recalled.
"They were good workers," she went on. "They were happy to be there. They knew that they were safe. There was no reason for them to have any worries about going back into the war."
Creed was 3 years old during the time and has memories of the soldiers as well. "I just vaguely remember going with mom in the truck to pick the guys up," Creed said.
Creed also recalled her mother always having a vegetable garden and doing a lot of canning and freezing. And of course the sheep.
Holzhausen had made a pet project of raising sheep on the farm, something the family teased her about. They called it "Jean's Folly," Creed remarked.
Holzhausen would keep one ram and eight ewes at a time, plus any number of lambs. The rams were always troublemakers, she recalled. But the best part was shearing time. The family would hire someone to come shear the adult sheep. "Shearing time was a huge picnic. Everybody would come. They would all bring food," said Creed.
Family members would watch while the shearer flipped the sheep on their backs and sheared off the fleece in one piece. Every member of the family could look forward to a wool sweater knitted by Holzhausen. Her husband, Julian, never caught the sheep fever, however, and stayed far away during shearing day. He passed away in 1995.
"We had a lot of fun with the sheep," grinned Holzhausen, now no longer able to knit.
The family farm has been split amongst Creed, her brother Fritz, and a cousin. Holzhausen's second son has since passed away. The cousin is farming his part, Creed said she has some apples on hers, and Fritz is growing grapes.
The Garden Club of Sebring recently recognized Holzhausen's 100th birthday during a luncheon. She was recognized with an orchid corsage and a birthday cake. "Jean still attends our meetings and mingles with others in conversation, and it's amazing how sharp she is," commented club secretary Pat LeFiles in an email.
"When the Sebring High School choir sang (at the luncheon), Jean kept time by tapping her foot to the music and expressed her joy when they sang Happy Birthday by blowing kisses to the group," LeFiles continued.
Holzhausen became a member of the club in the early 1990s when she would visit Sebring twice a year. "I was very interested in gardening, and the women were very cordial and helpful," she said.
While she is no longer able to attend all of the meetings and functions or to work outdoors, Holzhausen's backyard features a grapefruit tree that's she's fond of and a 15-year-old orchid tree that she started from seed. Her favorite flower is a white rose.
After a long career as a nurse, which included 20 years as director of nursing for a nursing home, Holzhausen retired at age 70. She still has a sense of humor about it: "The time I didn't enjoy being a nurse was when I was a patient myself in the hospital," she joked.
Her best memories of the farm include the joy of growing up there. "Just the fun we had, the freedom we had. The variety of people we met, the contacts we made. Of course, we particularly enjoyed the prisoners, because they weren't prisoners to us, they were friends," Holzhausen shared.
Creed, who graduated from the same nursing school as her mother and recently retired from the Florida Hospital, now cares for her mother in her home and takes her to Garden Club events when it's feasible.
What does Holzhausen have to say about hitting the 100 mark? "I feel very fortunate in my daughter opening her home that I could live with her," she said. She is thankful to be able to get around without having to drive. "I don't drive anymore," said Holzhausen adamantly - "It's chaos!"