Hamilton woman survived Spanish Flu, WWII bombings — wants cards for 105th birthday

The 105-year-old could try to blow out a candle for every year she's lived, but instead she's asking people across the country to send a birthday card. She's hoping to collect 105.

Ann Konkel survived through the Spanish Flu and the Second World War

Ann Konkel dons a pink birthday hat for her 105th. She hopes to receive a birthday card for every year she's lived. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

This birthday comes at a strange time for Ann Konkel. She didn't expect to be turning 105 in the middle of a hospital courtyard — during her second pandemic.

But is she afraid?

"No, no, no, you just have to adjust," she told CBC News. Her granddaughter, Laura, helped her during the interview.

The 105-year-old could try to blow out a candle for every year she's lived, but instead she's asking people across the country to send a birthday card. She's hoping to collect 105.

Ann Konkel has been staying at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton nursing an injury after a fall at home. But she's been through a lot worse — the Spanish Flu and the Second World War. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Konkel lives alone in her Hamilton home. She bought it in the 50s with her late husband, a war hero who fought the Nazis and fascism in the Polish resistance. 

Ann Konkel listens as her granddaughter, Laura, speaks to her during her 105th birthday. Konkel spent weeks in the hospital after a fall at home. Her family was worried she wouldn't live to see this birthday. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Three months ago, Ann fell over. She has been at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton's Charlton Campus ever since.

She only just started seeing family because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

"The first day she was admitted to hospital, they said 'Prepare yourself because we don't know if she's going to make it,' " Ann's daughter-in-law, Robin, said.

"She was so lonely and depressed because she was isolated."

But Ann persevered like it wasn't the toughest thing she's lived through.

WWII and Spanish Flu survivor

Ann was born in 1915 in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. She survived the Spanish Flu when she was three.

Then she live through the Second World War despite the bombings in Rotterdam. Her father died of starvation.

Ann Konkel, centre, is the middle child. Her sisters and her parents have all died. She said there's no secret to living as long as she has. (Submitted by Laura Konkel )

Her family said she met her future husband, Edward, during the war. He survived prisoner of war camps and concentration camps. Her family says he emerged a decorated member of the Polish resistance.

They married and moved to Hamilton in 1952. Her family said they lived in a rooming house, buying each room until they owned the whole lot. Ann worked as a cleaning lady while her husband worked at Stelco. 

She eventually retrained and became an operating room nurse at Henderson Hospital.

Ann Konkel and her husband, Edward, pose with their only child, Chuck. (Submitted by Laura Konkel)

"We're a big Hamilton family," her son, Chuck, said.

Chuck's father died in the 90s but his mother continued living in their home.

Her family says, up until a few years ago, she was still volunteering with the Catholic Women's League and the Good Shepherd.

Celebrating birthday at hospital

This year, she sat down, wearing the same outfit she did during the last few birthdays. Her wish to collect 105 birthday cards was inspired by a veteran who asked for 100 cards. He received more than 90,000.

Her past birthdays have seen her travel to Europe, New York and even a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game.

On Tuesday, she sat in the hospital courtyard, surrounded by family. She was greeted by Hamilton Police Deputy Chief Frank Bergen and other officers.

The police also brought one of their horses.

Ann Konkel is introduced to Hamilton Police Deputy Chief Frank Bergen by her son, Chuck. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"I'm getting even more excited," Konkel said.

And so is her family.

"This is what keeps her going. This is what is going to get her to 106," Robin, said.

Those who want to send a birthday card to Ann, can mail cards here: P.O. Box 10066, Don Mills, Ont., M3C 0J9.


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