Newspaperwoman Mildred Heath, 100, Named America's Oldest Worker
Mildred Heath of Overton, Neb., a newspaperwoman for 85 years who still works at least 30 hours a week, is America's Oldest Worker for 2008, according to Experience Works, a provider of training and employment services for older workers. Heath, along with outstanding older workers from every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, were recognized Wednesday in Washington, D.C., as part of the Experience Works Prime Time Awards Program, an event honoring the contributions of older workers.
Heath (nee Nelson) began working in 1923 at age 15 while she was still in high school, taking a job for her hometown newspaper, the Curtis Enterprise (Curtis, Neb.). There, she taught herself to operate a linotype--a machine that turned hot lead into lines of type for the printing press. "I got really good at it," she says, "but the lead was really hot." She still carries burn marks from those early days.
In 1929 Heath and her husband Blair bought the Farnam Echo, beginning a family and publishing partnership that now involves three generations. In 1938, the couple moved to Overton where they founded the Overton Observer. For many years, the Heaths lived in rooms behind the Observer office with their three daughters, Donella, Polly, and Barbara, who were literally born into and grew up in the newspaper business. In 1948, they purchased the Elm Creek Beacon and later combined the newspapers.
Now possibly the oldest working journalist in the country, according to the Nebraska Press Association, Heath has seen dramatic changes in the newspaper business. She believes the computer is responsible for many of those changes, making publishing the newspaper easier and quicker. Her son-in-law Norm Taylor says, "Mildred adapted to the new technology quickly. When we got our first computers, she just sat down and taught herself how to use them."
At age 100-plus, despite the fact that she has outlived her three daughters and has four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild, Heath says she has no plans for retirement and talks about all the things she wants to do, at work and at home. For more information on Experience Works or to nominate an outstanding older worker for 2009, visit www.experienceworks.org.