Birches Resident Reflects on Life at 100

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Birches Assisted Living resident Elizabeth Kuss has lived a productive life; she started her own beauty salon shortly after graduating from high school, raised a family of six kids and still found time to pursue her passions for painting, sewing and playing the piano. But perhaps Kuss’ most impressive accomplishment occurred on August 21 when she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Many people dream of living a long and fulfilling life like Kuss’, but few attain centenarian status. According to data from the US Census Bureau, only .02 percent of the population lives to be 100 or older, making the 100th birthday an even more impressive milestone for those who achieve it.

Reflecting on her life, Kuss finds little to complain about, despite facing difficult circumstances in her early years. Kuss lost her mother when she was only eight years old, and, because her father was a preacher for congregations throughout Illinois, Kuss found herself moving a lot as a child. Fortunately, she found solace and a willing playmate in her younger sister, who was only 15 months her junior.

“It’s nice to have a sister about the same age,” said Kuss. “My sister Jean and I liked to go to the movies and eat ice cream and do a lot of stuff together.”

In addition to the fond memories she has with her sister Jean, Kuss also recalls her childhood as a time when she first developed her love of the arts. Upon the request of her father, Kuss began taking piano lessons. Although she wasn’t a prodigious piano player, Kuss says she always loved music and continued playing throughout her life.

“My dad knew a lady who taught piano, so she taught us for 25 cents a lesson,” Kuss chuckles. “It was a long time ago of course. I look back on it and can’t believe I could get a lesson on the piano for 25 cents.”

By the time Kuss graduated high school, the Great Depression was in full force, but she didn’t let that stop her from pursuing a career. Kuss attended beauty school in downtown Chicago and then opened up a beauty salon in Canton, Illinois with a friend. The salon was called Royal Beauty Salon and quickly developed into a thriving business.

“My friend’s father loaned us $400 to start the salon, and we were able to pay it back in a year because the shop was very successful. We ran that shop for quite a few years,” said Kuss.

The location of her beauty shop turned out to be especially fortuitous for Kuss because it was in Canton, Illinois that she met her future husband, who worked as the manager of the Kroeger Grocery Store. Shortly after they met, she got married and left her salon days behind her to focus on being a wife and mother.

According to her son John, Kuss was a master of domesticity. She sewed her daughters’ dresses, cooked delicious meals and made fresh apple pies using apples from the tree in their backyard. Kuss herself remembers the time she spent raising her children fondly, citing her role as a mother as the accomplishment she is most proud of in her life.

“I love all of my children dearly, and I am very proud of all of them,” said Kuss. “They are all very kind and tender people.”

Kuss also developed several other passions during her 100 years of life, including painting and a devout commitment to the Chicago Cubs. Despite the fact that her husband was a Sox fan and the Cubs haven’t won a world series during her long lifetime, she maintains an allegiance to the North Side baseball team to this day. She even received a letter in the mail from the Cubs in honor of her 100th birthday.

“It was a great gift,” said Kuss. “I am such a big Cubs fan, it was very exciting. It made my birthday even more special.”

Kuss celebrated her 100th birthday by gathering together with her family, Birches residents and Birches associates for festivities and cake. With her nails painted a youthful pink from a recent manicure at The Birches’ on-site salon, Kuss blew out the candles that represented a century of life lived in a fulfilling way— doing what she loved, whether it be running a salon, raising her kids or rooting for her favorite baseball team.