Saturday, February 15, 2003

Heading to 100

All you need: love & knitting


Louise Koenig will turn 100 in nine years. Want to help her celebrate?

"I've invited everybody here to my party," says the tiny woman with the big, bright eyes.

She lives alone at the Baptist Village in Erlanger. Every day, she settles down to her routine: soap operas and knitting.

Lots and lots of knitting. Over the last three years, the 91-year-old has whipped up 315 tiny hats in the colors of sherbet. She gives them to St. Elizabeth Medical Center, which in turn presents them to first-time mothers.

"I'm just doing what's in my heart," Koenig says.

We could learn a lot from this heart of hers.

In it, she keeps the memory of her true love, whom she misses terribly. Still, she has resolved to be happy, because that's what he would have wanted.

"He took my hand and said, `You are the most wonderful wife in the world,' " Koenig recalls.

"That's an awful nice thing to say to your wife when you know you're not going to make it."

Childhood love

John and Louise grew up together in New Jersey. At 11, John announced he was going to marry her. Louise said forget it. She was 10 and hated the way he yanked her hair ribbons.

As the years passed, John took to chasing away her suitors.

There was, for instance, poor Byron Kipp, who made the mistake of asking Louise to go roller-skating.

John decked him. Then he tucked the groggy Byron into a red wagon and pulled him home.

John and Louise were married for 52 years. A World War II veteran, John was funny, tough and a great salesman, says his son, Roy Koenig of Boone County.

But he also had health problems related to childhood scarlet fever. Over 30 years, John suffered seven heart attacks. Lying in so many hospital beds, he would muster the strength to make one little wisecrack before drifting back to sleep, his son recalls.

"I absolutely believe my dad lived through all those heart operations because he refused to leave my mother," Roy Koenig says.

In 1988, John finally succumbed. He was 78.

Passion for knitting

Louise was terribly depressed. But she had a 2-year-old grandson, and before long, the two of them were dressing up like cowboys and teaching school to stuffed animals.

Incredibly, Louise had a double knee replacement at the age of 89. This took care of her arthritis, and now she bounds around like a youngster of 70.

Somebody gave her a wheelchair, just in case. She uses it as a cart for gathering mail.

Knitting is her passion. She keeps her baby hats stacked neatly in the bottom of old Kleenex boxes, and every winter, she gives about 100 of them to St. Elizabeth.

"I love life," Koenig says. "I'd hate to stop breathing. I'd think it was a dirty trick."

Besides, John told her to keep on. Even 15 years later, his words - "You are the most wonderful wife in the world" - are fresh in her mind.

"I'm not going to let him down," she says.

E-mail or call (859) 578-5584.

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