Lena Agnes Petzinger of South Elgin long has been fond of saying, "You're never too old until you're 102."
So what will she say starting Sunday, when she turns 102?
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On a warm spring afternoon this week, the question seems to take her by surprise as she sits in the patio of Tower Hill Healthcare Center, the nursing home where she's lived for the past two years.
"God only knows," she says. "You're here today, and you're gone tomorrow."
Then her blue eyes -- the perfect complement to her once-red hair -- stare off in the distance. "I still don't believe I'm that old," she says.
Known as "Aggie," she was born in 1911 to a family of eight children on Chicago's west side. She married John Petzinger in 1934 and had two daughters, one of whom died in 1997. John Petzinger died in 2002 at the age of 94.
"She was always a very strong person," said Aggie's daughter, 74-year-old Mary Fittanto of Streamwood. "She was always there for me and my sister."
The Petzingers lived in Chicago until they moved to Streamwood in the early 1970s.
Aggie remembers fondly her time as a busy homemaker who tended a garden and liked to can pears and tomatoes. On Sundays, she liked to cook special meats, like a leg of lamb or roast beef, and have coffee and doughnuts ready for visitors, she says.
She also never thought twice about tackling home projects on her own, like putting up wallpaper, cleaning the gutter or knocking down decorative columns -- much to her husband's dismay.
"(My husband) used to say, 'Why don't you wait until I get home?'" she says. "But I had nothing to do, so I did it."
Aggie has quick advice about marriage, too. "If something is wrong, walk away, and come back and straighten it out," she says.
Her husband, whom she called "daddy," comes up often in conversation, in the present tense.
"Her strength is still there, she still has her sense of humor, but the memory is fading," Fittanto explained.
Aggie is in good health for her age, and gets around -- albeit gingerly -- with the help a walker. She gets visits from her daughter three or four times a week, and together they play Bingo or Bunco with other residents of the nursing home.
For her mother's 100th birthday, Fittanto organized a party at the Elk Grove Park District's banquet hall attended by many of Aggie's three grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and their spouses.
This Sunday, the celebration will be more low-key, but will include a customary visit from Jerry and Loretta Bromley, of Schaumburg. The couple have visited Aggie every Sunday for the past 10 years. The two families first met about 20 years when they attended St. Ansgar Roman Catholic Church in Hanover Park, and Jerry Bromley started doing home visits for Aggie's husband, by then bedridden.
"We developed a connection. When John passed away, we kind of stayed in touch with her like a grandmother," Jerry Bromley said. "She's a spunky gal. When we joke around, I can try to pull fast ones on her with some jokes and she gets it. She knows when I'm pulling her leg."
During the afternoon visit, Aggie laughs often, and heartily. Then, as she gets ready to get up and go back to her room, she pauses, as if remembering something.
"You're never too old until you're 103," she says.