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At 93, Farmington woman is still learning to be elderly

It says something about Elizabeth Richardson’s attitude toward aging that as she talks about dealing with residents at Farmington’s Trinity Care Center nursing home she adds this aside:

“Elderly people are interesting to work with,” she said. “They’re kind of challenging.”Elizabeth Richardson moved to Trinity Terrace senior apartments six months ago. At 93, and with plans to live to at least 100, Richardson seemingly excludes herself from the ranks of the elderly. She’s still deciding to be old, she said. Still learning.

Learning, it seems, is a theme in Richardson’s life. While she doesn’t have a college degree, she has always been good about teaching herself new skills. If there’s a new skill she wants to pick up, she’ll read up on the subject, then work at it until she knows what she’s doing.

“If I want to learn something, I get research and do it,” she said. “Anything I get interested in and research, I can do it.”

Richardson learned to sew from her grandmother when she was a girl growing up in Lincoln, Neb. She learned how to paint. After she got married and moved to Maryland she took a few classes to learn aeronautical drafting and got a job with Fairchild Aircraft. During World War II she worked with the engineer who designed the wing of the company’s C-119 cargo plane, also known as the Flying Boxcar. It was her job to take the engineer’s drawings and specifications and turn them into the documents that would be used to produce the parts.

All without much in the way of formal training.

“I’d always been interested in drawing,” Richardson said. “I understood engineering. The designer of the wing would give me dimensions, and I’d draw it.”

Her drafting didn’t end there. She learned how to create patterns to make her own clothes, and when she lived in Texas she drew up the plans for her own home.

There are signs of Richardson’s artistic ability all around her apartment at Trinity Terrace. On one wall there’s a painting she did. Elsewhere there are Asian-influenced needlepoints based on her designs. There are lamps Richardson made out of driftwood.

When she was 60, Richardson started writing poetry. She doesn’t write regularly, but from time to time she’ll be inspired to sit down and write something in a bound book she has filled with hand-written verses. She writes about everything from weather to relationships to fishing to, “poochie tummy.”

Richardson and her family moved from Maryland to Minnesota, but after a 13-inch snow one winter, her husbanded decided to head south. They moved to Texas, where he owned his own company buying and selling industrial machinery.

Her husband is dead now, and Richardson moved back to Minnesota six months ago to be closer to her daughter. It’s been tough to get used to her new home, and not just because of the weather. She’s not in her own house, and the avid cook has a kitchen that’s nothing like the one she designed for herself in Texas.

“This is a nice place, but I’m having a hard time adjusting to it,” she said. “This kitchen is adequate, but it’s small. It doesn’t inspire me to cook, and I love to cook.”

It will be one more learning process.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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