© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Jessie Korpess stands beside a cake and flowers as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday with friends and family. Approximately 150 people turned out on Saturday afternoon at the Royal Canadian Legion Club to wish the centenarian Prince Albert resident a happy birthday.
Surrounded by friends and family as she prepared to celebrate her 100th birthday, Jessie Korpess was well aware of her good fortune.
“I feel very good,” the centenarian Prince Albert resident said. “I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am,” she added.
Her feelings were shared by the estimated 150 well-wishers who turned out on Saturday afternoon at the Royal Canadian Legion Club to help Korpess ring in her centennial anniversary ahead of her official birthday on Monday.
The woman of the hour -- currently the oldest living member of the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- attributed her longevity to years of farm life and a diet rich in simple, nutritious food.
“On the farm, there’s always work,” her daughter Sally Brule noted. “You don’t stop.”
Korpess’s strong connection to her Ukrainian roots is still evident in her slight accent.
Her parents both immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine in 1911, with father Steve Horychun arriving in the spring and her mother Teresa Lukasiewich arriving that fall.
Born in Prince Albert in 1914, Jessie Horychun grew up in a Ukrainian community and attended Podole School in the community of Honeymoon, where the family later moved to homestead
Twin tragedies struck the family when she was relatively young, with Jessie’s sister Mary dying of diphtheria in 1919 before her mother passed away in 1926.
“She was 12 years old when her mom died,” Brule said. “So she stayed with her dad and they ran the farm up until my dad came into the neighbourhood.”
Future husband Mike Korpess was working on farms when he arrived in Honeymoon in 1936 and met Jessie.
The pair formed a deep friendship, which soon turned into love. They married in September of the same year and continued work on the family farm, with Mike taking an active role.
Two daughters were born in 1941 and 1944, and in 1945 the couple bought land in the Clouston district south of Prince Albert.
In subsequent years Mike and Jessie had four more children, with Jessie’s father continuing to live with them until his passing in 1953.
After her husband died in 1992, Jessie stayed on the farm for nine more years, initially renting out the property before it was sold to a grandson.
I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am. Jessie Korpess
Her son Roy was killed in a traffic accident in 1996. In 2001, at the age of 87, Korpess moved to Sherman Towers, where she currently resides.
Living in the local apartment block, Korpess remains very independent and self-sufficient despite her advanced years.
“She does her own laundry, does her own cooking,” Brule noted.
With all her free time, Korpess continues to keep busy.
Aside from watching television and a considerable amount of reading, she enjoys frequent visits and phone conversations with friends and family.
One of her favourite hobbies is tending to her flowers, including a flower garden on her balcony and a small garden in the yard at Sherman Towers.
“I like to plant some flowers,” Korpess said. “That’s important.”
Her extended family today includes 11 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Family and friends were plentiful at Korpess’s Saturday birthday celebration, which included a hearty lunch and words of congratulations.
“We’ve got her guestbook here from her 90th birthday … A lot of the same people are here again and a lot have passed on,” Brule said. “So you visit with who you can -- a lot of people that you don’t see very often.”
Another book displayed official greetings from prominent figures congratulating Korpess and wishing her a happy 100th birthday.
They included congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Premier Brad Wall, Opposition Leader Cam Broten, Prince Albert MP Randy Hoback, Wascana MP Ralph Goodale, Lt.-Gov. Solomon Schofield, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens and Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie.
Looking ahead past her significant milestone, Korpess plans to continue living her life much as before -- but did mention one notable birthday wish.
“I hope I stay healthy,” she said with a smile. “I wish for health!”