‘I ate dirt’: Pennsylvania woman, 101, shares secret to long life

A Pennsylvania woman who celebrated her 101st birthday last week had an unusual reason to explain her longevity.

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“I ate dirt,” Josephine “JoJo” Goellner told the Times News of Lehighton as her birthday was celebrated by friends and staff members at the Tamaqua Area Adult Day Care Center. Goellner was surrounded by flowers, signs and balloons to mark the occasion.

But many were puzzled by the “dirt” remark. But Goellner, who was born April 9, 1921, and spent part of her childhood in Italy, had a ready answer.

“When I was in Italy, you ate the dirt,” Goellner told the Times News. “There was dirt on the potatoes and the vegetables. You didn’t wear shoes. You had dirty hands. We developed an immunity to things.”

Josephine Bartolanzo Goellner was born on April 9, 1921, online birth records show. She married Howard Goellner of Raritan, New Jersey, on Sept. 1, 1946, according to the Courier News of Plainfield.

Josephine Goellner said she was sent to Italy as a child by her father, Joseph Bartolanzo, after her mother died

“My mother died. My father didn’t have any family in the states to help raise us, so we were shipped to Italy,” Josephine Goellner told the Times News.

She stayed in the village of Sarmede, located north of Venice at the base of the Alps, with her grandmother, the newspaper reported.

“In Italy, if someone is down and out, they are never alone,” Josephine Goellner told the Times News. “Even though you are not related to them, people want to help you,” she said.

She eventually returned to the United States, left school after the eighth grade and found work at a textile mill.

“I worked with a lot of machinery. There were looms. I remember all the white lint that would be in the air, and when I would come home, my hair was white from the lint,” Josephine Goellner told the newspaper. “It’s a wonder it did not harm my lungs.”

She met her husband shortly before he went overseas to fight in World War II. He lived a few blocks away in their New Jersey neighborhood.

When Howard Goellner returned home, the couple married and raised a family. Josephine Goellner worked at Ethicon in Raritan, New Jersey, until she retired in 1993, the Times News reported.

Howard Goellner died on Oct. 8, 1976, according to online records. But Josephine continues to live a spry, active life.

“She doesn’t walk. She runs,” said the center’s assistant director, Colleen Killian, assistant director at the Tamaqua Area Adult Day Care Center, told the Times News. “I can barely keep up with her.”

“Not many people get to be my age,” Josephine Goellner told the newspaper. “And I feel good.”

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