By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney celebrated Montana’s centenarians on Tuesday at the 49th Governor’s Conference on Aging held at the Eastern Plains Events Center in Glendive.
In brief remarks before the large crowd assembled for Tuesday’s luncheon to honor the state’s centenarians, Cooney — filling in for Gov. Steve Bullock, who was tied up touring wildfires in Western Montana with federal officials — noted how much times and the state have changed in the century or more that Montana’s centenarians have been alive.
“Each of our centenarians have such amazing stories and I’m glad to be here today to honor them,” Cooney said. “It’s amazing to think of all the changes our centenarians have witnessed in the past century or more.”
Reaching back exactly 100 years to 1917, Cooney, a University of Montana graduate, jokingly noted the Grizzlies had a very poor football season that year, inviting Montana State fans to revel in that fact.
“If you’re a Montana Grizzly, I have some bad news, in 1917, the Griz finished with a record of one win and four losses ... if you’re a Bobcat fan you can cheer,” Cooney said, which did draw some hoots from MSU fans in the audience.
Cooney also further noted that Montana’s first congresswoman began serving in 1917 — a time before women even had the right to vote — and that the census estimate for that year counted just over 468,000 people in the state.
Moving beyond the past to the present, Cooney acknowledged the “difficult budget situation” the state is currently in, with additional major cuts to DPHHS looming, alluding to how the governor and state lawmakers may have some work to do to ensure those cuts don’t negatively affect Montana’s seniors to a serious degree.
“Each of these memories provide a great moment in history, but now as many of you know we are facing some tough times in our state,” Cooney said.
He vowed that he, Bullock and the rest of the governor’s administration would work closely with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to make sure whatever tough funding decisions must be made they wouldn’t place an undue burden on seniors or too severely curtail the state’s ability to provide essential services to the elderly.
“It’s important that we understand and recognize that our seniors are a vulnerable population,” Cooney said. “It’s amazing how many issues we must keep in mind as our loved ones age.”
Following his brief remarks, Cooney presented plaques to each of the four centenarians from Eastern Montana who attended the event, who were Roselyn Lueck, 100, of Sidney; Irene Moore, 101, of Culbertson; Emma Schaubel, 100, of Miles City; and Frances Sunwall, 100, of Fairview.
Cooney noted that DPHHS currently has 119 people listed as turning 100 or being over 100 years old in 2017. The absolute oldest people alive in the state are 108 years old, of which there are two of them. There are also two documented 107-year-olds, three people who are 106 and eight who have reached 105.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.