Ypsilanti resident Almyra Rourke turned 100 years young in March. She’s a trim, petite woman, mentally sharp, who looks to be maybe in her 70s. Of course, everyone asks her, “What’s your secret to living so long?” Almyra’s answer is simple: “Don’t stop moving.”
At age 93, Almyra joined EnhanceFitness® (EF), a physical activity program through the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM), being held at the Ypsilanti Township Community Center. EnhanceFitness is a fitness and falls prevention program for older adults. It includes low impact aerobics, strength training and stretches to increase mobility and maintain balance.
Almyra has always led an active life. She grew up on a busy dairy farm and graduated from high school in 1939. Her mother had said no to nurses training so Almyra attended Lansing Business College. After graduation, 20-year-old Almyra discovered that there were few jobs for anyone without experience. Then she heard that Henry Ford (yes, that Henry Ford) was hiring people for a new bomber assembly plant in Ypsilanti. “Now, you realize,” said the man who hired her, “you’re taking a man’s job. After the war, you’ll be fired and have to go back to the kitchen.” Almyra, who went to work as a bookkeeper in the plant payroll office, is considered a Rosie the Riveter for her time working for the war effort.
After the war, Almrya met Larry, who had just been discharged from the Army, at a ballroom dance. They married and had three children.
Still active, Almyra took the children on “primitive” camping trips. She and Larry both became Scout leaders when their children were in elementary school. The Rourkes also traveled as a family to many parts of the world, gathering with friends for the Larry’s 3rd Armored Division’s annual reunions.
After their children were grown and out of high school, the couple took up square dancing. They were also lifelong walkers. Almyra was a woman who walked fast, no matter where she was going. She states that even Larry couldn’t always keep up with her.
Almyra continued her fitness journey as she grew older. She belonged to a gym where she regularly used the NuStep cross trainer and walked a mile on the treadmill every day. When the weather was nice, she walked a mile around her neighborhood.
In 1985, when she and Larry began to spend winters in Arizona, Almyra joined a “stretch and tone” class that included weights and floorwork, attending five days a week. “It’s a social hour, too,” she says. “Remaining active has been a big part of my life.”
After joining EnhanceFitness® in 2018, Almyra and her daughter Shirlee were faithful EF participants until the pandemic started in March 2020, and in-person classes everywhere were cancelled.
In August 2020, Almyra and Shirlee enrolled in the NKFM’s self-guided Walk with Ease program, a walking program with phone support. “I knew that Almyra was a “go-getter” when she talked about loving exercise classes which were more challenging, not just the seated, easy variety,” recalls Lisa Klinkman, NKFM Program Manager.
In November 2020, the NKFM began offering EF online through Zoom as part of their distance learning workshops. When Almyra returned from wintering in Arizona, she happily rejoined virtual EF. She does it three days a week and participates in another online senior fitness program on the remaining two days.
Since Larry died in 2006, Almyra lives alone and does her own cooking. Shirlee and her husband Mark live across the street so Almyra can continue living independently. She no longer drives, so Shirlee takes her wherever she needs to go. Almyra’s life is full of fitness, friends and family, including seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Why the emphasis on physical activity throughout her life? “I’m sure that exercise has helped me,” says Almyra, who mowed her lawn until she was 90. “I walk all the time. I feel good after fitness.”