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Nursing home celebrates 105th birthday of 'stubborn Norwegian'

Jennifer Hams, director of social services and activities at the Good Samaritan Center in Barnesville, wishes Gifford Wermager a happy 105th birthday Monday. David Samson / The Forum

After 105 years, Gifford Wermager has found the secret to a long life: brandy.

The longtime Barnesville resident drinks two ounces of brandy a day - doctor's orders.

"So, that's how it's been going," he says.

Monday was Gifford's birthday. But because the "stubborn Norwegian" has outlived most family and friends, his nursing home came together - sans alcohol - to throw him a party.

"It's significant to make it to 105," says Jennifer Hams of the Good Samaritan Center. "That's just a huge milestone."

About 50 residents, staff and friends gathered to honor Gifford at the center located a block away from his home. It was a gesture his only child appreciated.

"They're wonderful people," says son Tom Wermager, who lives in Vermont. "I feel bad I'm so far away from my father, but it's just the way the circumstances are."

The 58-year-old planned a huge 100th birthday celebration five years ago for his father. And while Monday's party may have been a bit more modest, turning 105 just isn't a big deal to Gifford.

"I suppose if you feel good like me, that's OK."

He credits the lifestyle he's lived for why he feels so good now. He's enjoyed a drink or two every day, but "you'd never see him at a bar," says longtime friend Harold Haugrud, 75.

Perhaps just as significant has been his outlook on life.

"He's just not a feel sorry for yourself person," said Haugrud's wife, Marion, 71.

And that good health has paid off. Despite declining hearing, partial blindness and a bum knee, Gifford is in "relatively good health for being 105 years old," his son says.

He's outlived his five siblings and wife, who died four years ago at age 95.

"It was probably the way he lived," Tom Wermager says. "He didn't get too stressed out by anything."

In fact, asked about landmarks in his life, Gifford doesn't mention two world wars or the Great Depression, but rather, countless trips lounging on lakes.

"That was probably when my dad was the happiest," his son says of his father's cabin on Lake Izzie near Pelican Rapids.

His respect and love for Mother Nature has fulfilled the life of this frequent deer and duck hunter and avid fisherman.

In fact, his advice to his son lines up with his lifelong passions: Eat a lot of fish, venison and drink whiskey.