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Published in The Seattle Times online on Nov. 16, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Nov. 19, 2023
101-year-old’s inspiring blog on aging becomes a pair of books
By Clay Eals
In her youthful eyes, smile and bearing, we can see it all — joy, hope and, reinforced by a sturdy tree, boldness and fortitude.
That fits this December 1940 day. The 18-year-old poses in uniform outside the Swedish Hospital nurses’ home on First Hill, following a “capping” recognition ceremony in the second of her four years of study at Swedish’s School of Nursing.
She’s Doris Schölin Carnevali, a Seattle native and local legend, less for an oft-honored nursing and educational career at Swedish and the University of Washington and more for what she embraced six years ago after turning 95 and continued through this year at 101. This accomplishment is an extraordinary blog of 200-plus entries, attracting 1,000 subscribers, with the rhyming title of “Engaging with Aging.”
Her blog, suggested by a UW dean and set up by a granddaughter, covers all manner of physical and emotional aspects of getting older. With a first-person voice, it’s less a compendium of explicit advice than a set of lessons by example, from adjusting to changed abilities to accepting offered assistance.
Mixing anecdotes and philosophy, the longtime West Seattleite imparts wisdom and humor from which we all can benefit, if (as the saying goes) we are lucky to live so long.
A sample: “No way did I think that becoming aged would require almost constant creativity in order to remain happy and satisfied, but it has! Now this creativity has little to do with the way I would have defined it in the past: artistic, inventive, theoretical. No, instead it’s been mundane, pragmatic, primitive, tiny, adaptive.”
Thus, in her kitchen: “The round knob on the oven … was too stiff for me to turn. A quarter-inch-wide small rubber band over its circumference gives me the traction I need. I can still bake!”
This fall, Carnevali’s blog posts were transformed into two colorfully illustrated, spiral-bound volumes by two Whidbey Island friends: Army Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, a longtime nurse (best known for her successful challenge of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” homosexual policy), and illustrator-designer Stef Christensen.
Today, Carnevali is in assisted living, unable to travel. But several fans recently visited the site of her 1940 photo at the ever-changing First Hill campus of Swedish — an institution that, at 115, is not much older than Carnevali herself.
“What Doris has contributed,” Cammermeyer says, “is how a healthy, elderly person can manage the changes of aging, and do it with vim, vigor and enthusiasm. There is so much that is so positive and inspiring. I’m only 81. She’s telling us how.”
Thanks to Emily at the Puget Sound Regional Branch of Washington State Archives, Heather of the Seattle Room of Seattle Public Library, Natalie Kozimor of Swedish Hospital and especially to Janet Primomo, Basia Belza, Sarah McKiddy, Grethe Cammermeyer and Stef Christensen for their invaluable help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
You also will find an additional video, 3 web links and, in chronological order, 29 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.
Web links related to Doris and her blog:
- Doris’ 2019 paper, “Engaging with Aging: A Framework for Managing Daily Living,” co-authors Janet Primomo and Basia Belza, published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing
- A celebration of Doris’ 100th birthday, a 2022 Kudoboard
- A June 5, 2019, KING-TV story
- A winter 2021 story from 3rd Act magazine