For most of her life, birthdays for longtime Cortez resident Virginia Henneman have been overshadowed by the Christmas holiday, but this year’s celebration is cause for extra attention. Henneman turns 100 on Dec. 28, and her children, Jerry and Maureen, of Mancos, have invited the whole town to stop by and ring in her centennial at Trinity Lutheran Church.
“I really don’t know if there’s a secret to it (living long), I’ve worked, I’ve been busy … it’s just ordinary living,” she said. “There were lots of things I did that I shouldn’t have done, and lots of things I should have done.”
On that list of things she should’ve done, she says, is jump from an airplane
When she was a senior in high school in Wisconsin during the 1930s, Henneman and her cousin got a free ride from a biplane pilot who was making a stop in town. She remembers circling thousands of feet above her family’s home, and the pilot making upside-down loops in the air as her mother watched from ground.
“She saw the plane above the house and watched it, and had no idea we were onboard,” she said with a mischievous grin. “I’ve always loved flying after that; I always thought I would jump out of an airplane.”
Before she and her late-husband Roy settled in Cortez they lived in many cities all over the U.S., and upon Roy’s retirement, the two traveled extensively. One of their favorite places was Naples, Italy.
“We went to lots of places, but we really enjoyed Italy.… Naples was very nice, and the food was closest to what we were used to,” she said.
Upon settling in Cortez in 1972 to run the Aero Motel, the Hennemans dove right into local life. Virginia has been a Denver Broncos fan since the team’s inception, and still doesn’t miss a game. Roy got involved with local politics. Virginia, who as a young girl was accepted to Juilliard School of Music, used her talent to play organ at Trinity Lutheran Church. She served as Trinity’s organist well into her 90s.
She credits the people in her life as the central reason she’s been able to ride out the hard times and major health scares over the years, including colon cancer. Despite the trials she’s had along the way, Henneman still maintains a sharp sense of humor and a sunny disposition.
“I haven’t had any major disasters,” she said. “I’ve had bad experiences, and I’ve had good experiences, and through the worst, I’ve always had good people around me, and that helps very much.”
Through her lengthy time on earth, she’s learned quite a bit, but the most important lesson she can pass on is a simple one: be kind, even when its difficult.
“I think the best thing to learn for both children and adults is to be pleasant, friendly and thoughtful,” she said.
“It’s been a very pleasant – how many years?,” she asked with a laugh.
Virginia Henneman’s birthday celebration is Sunday Dec. 28 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Cortez from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Broncos take the field at 2:25 p.m., so arrive early if you don’t want to miss her.