'It's the Irish potatoes:' Greenfield resident and siblings share their secrets to living a record combined 383 years

Alex Groth
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Geraldine Bulger, 101, is shown with her youngest sibling, Richard Goebel, 92, Monday, March 28, 2022 at  Clement Manor, 3939 S. 92nd St. in Greenfield, Wis. They and two of their siblings made the Guiness Book fo Records for having highest combined age achieved by four living siblings is 383 years 147 days. Geraldine (b.April 3, 1921), Marjorie (b. May 19 1924), Robert (b. August 2, 1928), Richard (b. October 17 929), who were all born to Walter and Anne Goebel. The achievement was verified on 8 November 2021.



MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

A Greenfield resident is still going strong after more than 100 years.

Gerry Bulger celebrated her 101 birthday April 3 with her three siblings. It's an achievement worthy of celebration.

But the four of them also had something else to celebrate: making the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest combined age achieved by four living siblings. 

Between them, they've lived more than 383 years. Guinness verified their achievement  Nov. 8, 2021.

Gerry is the oldest of the siblings at 101, her sister Marjorie is 97, brother Robert is 93 and Richard is 92. Marjorie and Robert live in Chicago, and Richard lives in Sheboygan. They are the children of Walter and Anne Goebel and have no deceased siblings.

Their mother, Anne, was born in 1892 and died in 1968, at age 76, of health issues. Their father, Walter, was born in 1897 and died at age 72 in 1969. He was killed in a car accident. 

Gerry lives at the assisted living facility Clement Manor, 3939 S. 92nd St., Greenfield. 

After over a century, she has experienced how American life has changed, from the Great Depression to the invention of computers and cell phones.

She was born in Iowa on April 3, 1921. Marjorie was born in 1924, and then the family moved to Chicago, where her brothers were born in 1928 and 1929.

They grew up as big baseball fans, said Gerry. And even though tickets for the World Series games were less expensive then, they were still worth a lot of money.

"I went to two World Series with my uncle Joe and with my dad. I remember the girl who drove the car, and she held the tickets (in her hand) and Joe said, 'For God's sake, hide those tickets, they kill people for those,'" said Gerry. 

Gerry moved to Wisconsin with her husband, Bill, when he went to work for Red Star Yeast; and the couple had three children. They moved to Clement Manor in 2000; Bill died in 2004. 

As a longtime baseball fan, Gerry continues to cheer for the Milwaukee Brewers this season and calls herself the "biggest and best Brewers fan ever."

'Just a general routine'

If you and your siblings make it to your 90s and even to 100, you'd think there must be a secret to their longevity. Gerry said she credits her age to growing up eating potatoes and keeping up with a healthy routine over the years.

"It's the Irish potatoes and just a general routine. We kept up a little activity all the time," said Gerry.

Likewise, Dick said he attributes his longevity to healthy habits like having a balanced diet and exercising regularly. 

"We were involved with people and with the parish, and we just kept active in different things," said Dick.

"It's really something. To think, my dad's the youngest at 92. And talk about being active, he still does dart ball and bowled until he was 89 or something like that," said Dick's son Brett. 

Optimism goes a long way toward longevity

The average life expectancy in Wisconsin is about 77 for men and 82 for women, according to the Department of Health Services. Is eating a diet with potatoes really the secret?

Science backs up the claim that healthy eating and exercise contributes to a longer lifespan, said Colleen Galambos, Helen Bader endowed chair in applied gerontology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

But what's more important than healthy habits is actually whether you have a positive outlook on everyday activities, said Galambos. 

"If you have a positive attitude and are pretty optimistic, I think that goes a long way to reduce your stress and influences those good hormones that keep us going," said Galambos. 

Geraldine Bulger, 101, holds hands with her youngest sibling, Richard Goebel, 92, Monday, March 28, 2022 at  Clement Manor, 3939 S. 92nd St. in Greenfield, Wis. They and two of their siblings made the Guiness Book fo Records for having highest combined age achieved by four living siblings is 383 years 147 days. Geraldine (b.April 3, 1921), Marjorie (b. May 19 1924), Robert (b. August 2, 1928), Richard (b. October 17 929), who were all born to Walter and Anne Goebel. The achievement was verified on 8 November 2021.



MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

About 30 minutes per day of exercise, focusing on cardio, strength and stretching, and avoiding processed foods and sugar also increase longevity, said Galambos.

"Some people are 65 years old and look 80, and there are other people who are 65 and look 50. What's the secret? What I've determined is part of it is optimism and having a good outlook on life and not dwelling on the negative so much," she added. 

Something that helps maintain a positive outlook on life is spending time with friends and family members, which is something the four siblings have perfected over the years. Even into their 90s and 100s, they're still poking fun at each other. 

"The thing I remember about Dick is one day they came to me and I was in eighth grade. He was in first. They said, 'He wants to see you," Gerry said, pausing. 

"Should I tell that story?" she asked her brother. "No," he said laughing. 

"It was before the days of Depends, I'll just say that," she said. 

The four siblings celebrate Gerry's 101 birthday in Chicago-area and the accomplishment of becoming record holders for being the oldest four siblings alive. From left to right: Richard, Marjorie, Gerry and Robert

Good relationships also help

Maintaining positive relationships as you age is especially important, said Galambos. 

"If you think, 'Oh, I have these three siblings, and I just love them and we have such a  good relationship,' that's going to go such a long way to keeping you healthy and alive, versus someone who looks around and says, 'Well, I have a lot of connections, but no one is really close to me, and I don't have anyone to depend on," she said. 

What isn't helping the fight against loneliness is more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Social isolation and loneliness can potentially result in physical, cognitive and emotional health-related problems in older adults. 

People who struggle with isolation and loneliness are at increased risk for stroke, heart disease, cognitive decline and depression, Galambos said. Loneliness is a growing problem in U.S. About a quarter of Americans older than 65 are considered to be socially isolated, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

In response, the Center for Disease Control advised that individuals struggling with loneliness should contact their local medical provider for resources, and reported that medical intervention is key. 

All the more reason why Galambos said it's impressive that the four siblings keep in touch with each other and their extended family members. Dick comes to visit Gerry at least once a month, said his son Brett. And Gerry and Dick traveled down to Chicago during the first week of April to visit their other two siblings to celebrate their accomplishment of being the oldest living siblings.

"We always look forward to parties," Dick said.

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Contact Alex Groth at agroth@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @grothalexandria.