Julia Kabance’s 109th birthday celebration unfolded in a room cramped with well-wishers last week. It was easy to see the love for this World War II veteran and member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.
At a table in front of the gathered at Good Samaritan Society – Valley Vista in Wamego, Kansas, Kabance smiled and listened. Dignitaries thanked Kansas’ oldest living veteran for her service to her country.
Summarizing, that list included 17 members of Prairie Brand Potawatomi Nation and We-Ta-Se Post 410 American Legion. The Good Samaritan Society and its staff at Valley Vista were there. Sanford Health, LeadingAge Kansas, two newspapers, two television stations and Kansas Public Radio were also part of the day.
Zeke Rupnick, chairperson of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, presented Kabance with a traditional blanket. Later, Paul Weckman, a retired U.S. Navy captain and current director of Sanford Health’s department of veterans and military services, gave her a Sanford Health veterans coin.
Letter from Senator Roberts
Anthony Bruna, a member of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ staff, read aloud from a letter sent by the four-term Kansas senator.
“I want to wish you a heartfelt 109th birthday on August 10th,” Bruna read to the crowd. “On this milestone it’s not enough to count the years, but to recognize that you certainly have made the years count.”
Sen. Roberts, 83, is a 1954 graduate of Holton High School. Coincidentally, that is the same school Kabance attended decades earlier.
“Compassion, patriotism, kindness and grace illuminate your ongoing and inspirational story,” Roberts’ letter continued. “As you celebrate this occasion with fond memories you must take pride in all you’ve accomplished.”
Kabance a media magnet
Kabance conducted five interviews with the media as part of the day at Good Samaritan Society – Valley Vista. Predictably, she maintained her distinctive sense of humor throughout.
“I can’t give you any advice — I wouldn’t follow it anyway,” she told WIBW-TV reporter Marleah Campbell as those around them laughed. “It would be a waste of breath.”
During an interview with J. Schafer of Kansas Public Radio, Kabance maintained that tone:
“I don’t feel as old as my years — I may look it, but I don’t feel old,” she told Schafer. “I feel about 50, though I’m not as fast as I used to be and I can’t jump up like a rabbit.”
Back when she could, Kabance joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. Subsequently, she went home after the war to care for her mother then went on to work as an accountant for the Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers. She retired in 1972. Thereafter, she became a popular and loyal volunteer at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka for years.
Kabance still takes part in Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation activities. Likewise, as she proved yet again last week, she plays the part of a good sport at her increasingly popular annual birthday celebrations. Inevitably, she is asked on these occasions to address the art of living well.
Kabance always answers humbly.
“Good food, good rest and live close to God,” she told Schafer. “I think that’s the secret to happiness.”
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