A year after the Coronavirus pandemic forced her to celebrate her 100th birthday via Zoom, Peace Village resident Carol Landow rang in 101 years in the comfort of her one-bedroom apartment that she has lovingly called home for the past 22 years.

Turning 101 is no small feat, but while reflecting on the last century of birthdays, Landow explained how thankful she is to be able to commemorate another, no matter how big or small the celebration. 

Throughout the last century, she has spent birthdays here, there and just about everywhere. Born to Emma and Henry Zilbel in 1920, Landow was one of eight children who grew up in Riverdale, Illinois. Throughout her younger years, she took a special interest in photography and nature, both of which ended up playing major roles in her century full of adventures.

Many of those adventures started at Englewood High School where Landow attended night school and focused on studying the art of photography. Before beginning her journey there, she remembers being stood up by a boyfriend on New Year’s Eve and becoming inspired to focus on her own interests. “I gave up on men and decided to focus on photography,” Landow laughs.

Little did she know that the pain of being stood up would mark a new chapter in her love life. Shortly after beginning her studies at Englewood, Landow met her future husband, Ernest, who she would marry just two years later at the age of 20. The couple was married for 53 years before Ernest passed away in early 1996. Together, they raised three children, William, Marjorie and Kathleen, and spent much of their time as a family focusing on the things that made them happiest.

During their marriage, the couple, accompanied with their cameras, tripods and kids, travelled to national parks across the country taking in nature and documenting their experiences in what Landow calls “suitcases full of pictures”. Through the years, they mainly traveled in their trailer but eventually upgraded to a motorhome after Ernest retired from his 48-year career as a mechanical engineer at Argonne National Lab. “We tried to make it to all the parks, I don’t think we quite did though. Arches National Park in Nevada was our favorite.”

One of the most remarkable experiences the family had while traveling was when a fully grown bear invaded their campsite and attempted to get into their tent. “We were sleeping, and the bear was circling around us. We could feel him rubbing against the tent, so my husband flipped the bear with his hand and told him to get out!” Landow says. “In the morning we saw sandy paw prints all over our cars windowsill because he tried to get in there. That was probably our most lively night in the park.”

When they weren’t traveling, Landow spent many of her days at a more local venue that she still holds near and dear. For 23 years, she worked as a volunteer at the Chicago Field Museum in the “Place for Wonder” room where she met and taught a variety of school aged children.

“I couldn’t go to college because we were very poor. No one in my family went, but I really wanted to become a teacher, so volunteering was like being a substitute teacher of sorts,” Landow says. In her position, she worked in a room with over 150 tactile items that children enjoyed experimenting with and learning from. Things like rocks, insects, plants and more were present in Landow’s special room, and she would regularly host treasure hunts to see who her best students were. “When I think back, I think that room was one of the high points of my life,” Landow smiles.

It wasn’t until long after she left her position in the city and years after her husband’s passing that she began thinking about making the move to a senior living community. “Keeping up with my home was getting to be a lot. I started searching, found Peace Village rather quickly, and knew I’d have help with the things that were getting more difficult,” Landow says. “I like that Peace Village provided transportation to and from church. That was important to me,” Landow says. She also enjoyed the breathtaking grounds and scenic views that she wasn’t able to find elsewhere. “I knew I wanted to overlook the water but at the time there wasn’t a room available to me. I told them to call me when there was and less than a week later, I got a call saying they were ready for me,” Landow recalls.

Throughout the years, Landow has enjoyed an array of outings and events planned by the Life Enrichment team and also keeps herself active in the community fitness center. She is also part of the Friendly Neighbor Program where she meets and acquaints new residents on all things Peace Village.

For the past few years, she has also enjoyed a cup of Peace Village’s finest chicken noodle soup for lunch every day. Landow credits part of her good health and longevity to her daily lunch and is a firm believer that if everyone had a bowl a day, “they’d be like me and never get sick!”

Her other secret to making it to 101? Visiting the Ginkgo Tree of Longevity in China. Shortly after Ernest’s passing, Landow took a trip to China where a tour guide urged her to walk down a series of hilled paths to the famous tree. At the time, she was 80 years old and never thought she’d make it, but after what felt like an impossible walk, she arrived at the Ginkgo Tree and was forced to take a picture under its branches.

When her tour guide handed her the image and told her that everyone who gets their photo taken under the tree lives to be 100, she chuckled and continued on with her trip. Today, Landow is still chuckling and is grateful that she took the difficult stroll 21 years ago.

Most of all, though, Landow is grateful to be celebrating another year of life surrounded by family in the comfort of her own home. “I’m glad Peace Village called me that day. I love it here and I’m lucky to have met some great people. The staff that works here cares about us and does whatever they can to make us comfortable,” she says.

Happy Birthday, Carol! We can’t wait to celebrate again next year!