On a warm, blue-sky day in Sonoma County, Ilse Meingast, 109, and Elli Schrank, 84, walked arm in arm through the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center to receive their second COVID-19 vaccination dose. It happened to be 2 days before Meingast’s 109th birthday.
“It went very, very well,” Schrank said after getting her vaccination. “Kaiser Permanente took care of the whole thing, from first informing me and Ilse, to getting vaccinated today.”
As Schrank and Meingast sat together, patiently waiting for their 15-minutes of post-vaccination observation time to pass, they began telling the story of their 50-year friendship. Schrank did most of the talking, as Meingast does not speak English, though Schrank translated a bit.
Their lives across the globe
Both women were born and raised in Germany. As an adult, Schrank worked throughout Europe as a chef. “Being a cook is the best way to see the world.” Meingast was a seamstress and mother to 3 children.
The women didn’t become friends, however, until they emigrated to the U.S. Schrank was 24 when she came to California and Meingast was in her 30s.
“When I was a child during World War II, I remember the Americans being so nice to the German children. I said then and there that I was going to go to America one day, and I did,” Schrank said.
“We connected immediately and have been friends ever since.”
Meingast followed her son to America to begin a new chapter. The 2 women met when Schrank was director of housekeeping services at a senior living community in Marin County, and Meingast became her employee.
“We connected immediately and have been friends ever since,” said Schrank, who for many years has been Meingast’s unofficial caretaker.
So close to her birthday, Meingast was asked how she felt turning 109. She replied, “I don’t know how anyone can get that old.”
A challenging year
Schrank and Meingast said the past year has been okay but challenging. They spent most of their time at home, Schrank on her 2-acre plot of land in Sebastopol, California, and Meingast in her Cotati, California, home, where she lives alone, with Schrank and a professional caretaker visiting often. Her favorite activities are reading and doing crossword puzzles.
As the women left the medical center, they met Meingast’s daughter, Ruth Mewes, 88, who was waiting outside. She was visiting from Germany, as she does yearly.
“She’s a good mother,” she said, adding that Meingast is “very smart” and is in good health, in part, due to eating “lots of fruits, vegetables, and fish.”
Talking about Schrank, Mewes added that she is like another daughter to her mother, and that their family is “very thankful” for her companionship to their mother.
As a final parting message, Schrank gave her advice to younger generations: “Wear your mask and abide by every health regulation. They are in place for a reason.”