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Local News

Local resident Merle Phillips celebrates 110th birthday

CAROL STREAM – Even though Merle Phillips turned 110 years old April 2, she doesn't feel any older.

"I don't feel any older than I did a long time ago," said Phillips, who celebrated her milestone birthday with a party April 3 at Belmont Village Senior Living in Carol Stream.

The former Wheaton resident was born April 2, 1907.

Helping her celebrate were Carol Stream Mayor Frank Saverino, members of the Carol Stream Fire Department and professional singer Sandi Haynes and musician Del Bergeson.

Carol Stream Fire Chief Robert Hoff invited Phillips to go up in the department's tower ladder basket, noting it was on her bucket list as something she always wanted to do.

"When the weather's nice, probably later this week, we're going to come over and take you up in a special ride," Hoff told Phillips. "It only goes 95 feet in the air. The only thing I'm going to ask that you don't do is slide down the rope going down."

Although Phillips uses a walker, she likes to keep physically active, including riding a recumbent bike every day for exercise.

"I try to ride 40 to 45 minutes every day," she said. "I like to be doing something."

In fact, she outlasted the Carol Stream mayor in a bike ride to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association.

"The mayor couldn't keep up with her," Belmont Village Executive Director Jeanne Hansen said. "She's a very competitive person. She likes to compete."

Instead of gifts, Phillips asked for donations to Spectrios Institute for Low Vision, an organization in Wheaton that helps adults and children with visual loss regardless of income. She was inspired to do so after having cataract surgery last year.

She also enjoys writing and is currently working on her 12th book. Phillips began writing about her life experiences when she was 72, and her last book was finished in 2013.

"I don't have much time to work on it," Phillips said. "I'm so busy."

The book will be about her experiences at Belmont Village. Hansen will be typing up the book for Phillips.

"The book will be about what things happen here because I don't know of anything else, and I'm not smart enough to make up things," Phillips said with a laugh.

Phillips moved to Belmont Village in 2014 after previously living in Wheaton for 58 years in the same house. Her husband, Leonard, died of leukemia after a 31-year marriage.

A butterfly garden was created at Cosley Zoo in Wheaton in his memory. Phillips said he loved collecting butterflies.

Longtime friend Mary Norton is amazed at Phillips' energy. They both attend Wheaton Wesleyan church, and Norton and her husband take her to church on Sunday mornings.

"She's quite the gal," Norton said. "She walks with her walker, but she walks just as fast as I do."

Norton herself is 77 years old.

Phillips was born on a farm in Kingston, Ark. Her father died of typhoid fever when she was 4 months old.

"He was getting better, but he was still thin and puny and he drank some contaminated water," she said.

Phillips continues to be an inspiration to both residents and staff at Belmont Village Senior Living, especially through her kindness, Hansen said.

"It's never about Merle," she said. "[She's always looking] at how she can make someone else's life better."

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