Vivian Grover's favorite game is guess my age, and she gets the chance to play it at least once a month.

On the first Saturday of every month, she drives her 1985 Mercury Topaz to the Colonial House restaurant for a 7:30 a.m. pancake breakfast with at least a dozen family members. 

Her sister, Jean Vesely, said Vivian usually walks slowly up to the waitress, her smiling face and arms held open inviting a hug before she asks the waitress to guess her age. 

"They usually think I'm in my 80s," said Vivian, giddy with laughter.

Today, she turns 102 and looks forward to another year of fooling waitresses.

Vivian is one of 240 South Dakotans over the age of 100, according to the 2010 Census. Overall, South Dakota has the second most centenarians per capita. North Dakota has the most with Iowa, Nebraska and Connecticut rounding out the top five.

And as one might suspect, it is the work ethic and wholesome values of the Midwest that Vivian credits for her longevity.

She grew up on a farm and has stayed physically and mentally active her entire life. Vivian also said she never smoked or drank alcohol. 

"Oh, I tried it once or twice, but eh, it just wasn't for me," said Vivian, who still lives alone.

On Feb. 20, 1911, she was born Vivian Margaret Taylor on a small dairy farm in Dover, Minn.

On Tuesday, she recalled milking cows by hand twice a day, walking a mile to school (yes, even in the snow) and not daring to sneak a bite before the prayer was said when sitting down for a meal with her parents and six siblings. 

That busy lifestyle carries over to this day.

"I never just sit and do nothing," said Vivian, who like to play solitaire while watching the one television she enjoys in the evenings.

She also credits spending time with others for keeping her young. She meets friends for coffee every morning and spends every evening playing games in the community rooms of her apartment complex. Her favorite card games are hand and foot and jokers wild.

Vivian plays bingo every Friday for a quarter a card and has kept a tally of her winnings for over 10 years.

"I like to do it just for fun and curiosity and now I'm up about $18," she said proudly.

Vivian has always been physically active. At the age of 4, a photo reveals holes in her stockings at the knees from a day of playing hard. She said she also loved riding horses and hiking Harney Peak.

Ever the adventurer, at the age of 83, she took a whitewater rafting trip with three friends to Colorado. 

When she couldn't be outdoors, she walked 3 miles a day at the mall. And up until last year, she refused to take anything but the stairs to her third-floor apartment.

At the age of 20, Vivian moved to Rockerville when she married her husband, Harry, in 1931.

Together they weathered the Great Depression, a world war and The Black Hills flood of 1972. They never had children of their own, but Vivian cherished her three stepchildren and their children.

Harry died in 1987. Vivian's favorite picture of them, taken on Christmas Day in 1953, sits prominently on a table in her bedroom. According to Census statistics, 82.8 percent of the centenarians in the United States are women.

On Vivian's walls hang a lifetime of photographs, her parents' marriage certificate and her artwork. A gallery of framed cross-stitch landscapes with little red barns decorates her living room. In her kitchen a cross-stitch banner reads, "Housework is something you do that nobody notices unless you don't do it."

This is something she lives by because in her apartment not a speck of dust lingers and everything is arranged perfectly. On this day, Vivian straightens a display of flowers and birthday cards that are taking over her kitchen table.

She has received several cards from well-wishers she doesn't even know after her sister, Jean Vesely, put an announcement in the paper.

Vivian also has her own holiday.

Today marks the second annual Vivian M. Grover Day declared on her 100th birthday by then-Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks. 

She blushes when asked about it and then goes into the story of how she had to prove her age by looking up the 1920 Census. She never had a birth certificate. 

 

Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8415 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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