April 28, 2010

USA: Still a strong kick at age 90

. OMAHA, Nebraska / The Omaha World-Herald / Community News / April 28, 2010 By Melissa Anderson, World-Herald News Service Mary Skaggs will celebrate her 90th birthday Thursday doing what she does every morning: the splits. She's been doing the splits since she was a child; she thinks she began doing them around the time she was in kindergarten. She remembers that her sisters couldn't do the splits. And she said that once her parents put her in a dance school, she learned to toe-dance and do chest rolls, backbends and flips. She married Jess Skaggs and lived in Papillion during the 1940s. The couple moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota for a time, then returned to Papillion in 1963 and raised five children. Mary Skaggs of Papillion is nearly 90 years old and still can do the splits. Photo: Kent Sievers / The World-Herald She held many jobs: camp counselor at Camp Kiwanis in Minnesota, a model in the late 1930s until she became too busy with her children, and in the Treasurer's Office at the Sarpy County Courthouse for 25 years before retiring at age 71. That's when she got back into doing the splits. “When I had all the children at home yet, and I wasn't working, I didn't have time to be doing that,” she said. “But then after I retired ... I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I should have done some exercise.' ” So Skaggs started doing the splits every morning. “She has made comments in the past that she likes to inspire elderly Americans to exercise,” her son Dick Skaggs said. “She was going around to the nursing homes, and she would show these people how they should move and stretch and try and keep their bodies mobile.” He said his mother has stayed healthy throughout her life because she “seldom drank, never smoked.” Now widowed, she occasionally gives in to her arthritis by using a cane but otherwise continues to clean her house, volunteer at Midlands Hospital and work in her “Garden of Eden” as she calls her yard. Son Dick walks Mary back to her house. Kent Sievers/The World-Herald “It's the best therapy there is,” she said. “It makes you forget about worrying about something or somebody when you're concentrating on the flowers.” Skaggs has had some national recognition over the years for her ability to do the splits. Just before her 85th birthday, Jay Leno invited her to “The Tonight Show.” Dick Skaggs said both Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman also invited her to their shows, but his mother said she had already “made a promise to Jay” to be on his show. Skaggs said Leno was very considerate and good to his mother when she was on the show. “He's a wonderful person,” Mary Skaggs said. “All of his employees said, ‘You couldn't work for anybody nicer.' He's a very, very nice person.” Award-winning actor Denzel Washington was a guest on the Leno show the night she was there. “I had never heard of him,” she said. “He was very nice. When I came off the stage, he patted me and said, ‘Good job, good job.'” Skaggs said she tries to live by the two things her father always told his children: The best things in life are the small things, and the greatest wealth you can achieve is good health. “If you don't have good health, what good is money?” she said. [rc] Copyright ©2010 Omaha World-Herald®.