Meet the 98-year-old Elgin woman who walks 3 miles daily

Betty McKeown should have been a postal worker in the days when nearly all walked their routes. She certainly had the skill set and ambition to walk whenever and wherever she had to.

She's been doing it for most of her 98 years and, as a lifelong resident of Elgin, continues to rack up three miles a day on the indoor track at the Centre of Elgin.

Betty should be proud of her efforts to keep moving at age 98. In doing so, she is among an impressive, though likely relatively small, group of those in their late 90s nationwide who continue to thrive through daily exercise.

But how many are still doing it after getting hit by a car while walking or undergoing heart surgery to have a pacemaker implanted?

Betty, who says she has "lots of grandchildren, including a great-great-great grandchild," is fueled by a simple desire beyond wanting to see her kids and grandkids: If she can move, she will do it. Plus, it gets her out among other people.

Did I mention Betty drives herself to the center each weekday morning? Years ago, she had a system for monitoring how far she walked - well before the Fitbit or Apple Watch were invented.

  Betty McKeown, 98, a lifelong resident of Elgin, likes to keep moving - and she continues to rack up three miles a day on the indoor track at the Centre of Elgin. Brian Hill/

"I walk indoors at the rec center now, but I used to walk outside," Betty said. "I would get in my car when I was done, then drive the route to determine how far I walked."

Back then, it was about five miles a day. "But that was a long time ago," she admits. Currently, she knows walking eight laps on the outer lane at the recreation center track gets her to three miles.

Her days of walking outside became limited two years ago after she was hit by a driver backing her car out of a driveway. "I felt bad for the woman who hit me. She was very concerned and wanted to drive me home," she said. "But I told her I was fine, and I just walked home."

An issue with her heart and the eventual surgery last year halted the walking routine, but she's back at it, most recently hitting her three-mile mark for the first time in months.

"She loves walking and says she is addicted to it," step-daughter Colleen McKeown said. "I think it is spectacular that she walks three miles a day."

It takes a special outlook on life to stay active at 98, and Colleen is sure that outlook fuels Betty's desire to walk. Also, Colleen noted that Betty likes to get "dolled up" with makeup and earrings when she is out, including for her walks.

"She's got one of the most positive attitudes of anyone I have ever known," Colleen said. "It's a feel-good story, and God knows these days we need news we can feel good about."

It might seem impossible to gauge how many miles Betty has walked in her lifetime. However, she did mention the Elgin Courier did an article about her in the early 1980s and estimated she had walked the equivalent of "to California and back."

If that's the case, it's not a stretch to believe she's walked enough to go coast-to-coast and maybe even back to Elgin from New York by now.

Betty's granddaughter Roxanne Baum lives with her, but Betty gets around on her own. And she's been that way since retiring at age 65.

  "You have to move a little and get out among people," says Betty McKeown, 98, of Elgin, who walks three miles daily at the Centre of Elgin. "Even if you come to the track and walk just one lap, you are moving and seeing other people." Brian Hill/

"It might have been good to work longer and get more money, but I don't have any regrets about it," Betty said. "My husband kept telling me he was going to retire at that age, but he passed away at 59, and I always remembered that."

For now, Betty says it is harder to sit for long periods than it is to walk. "If there is something you want to do, and you can do it, just go do it and enjoy yourself," she said. "I feel that way because so many people say they can't do it or don't want to spend the money, but everyone is different."

Betty mastered a walking routine at a young age.

"I walked to Elgin High School (the old high school on Gifford Street) from Raymond Street every day, and that was a long walk, especially in the cold," Betty said. "But kids today don't want to walk a block or two to school, it seems."

Ultimately, Betty operates on a philosophy that has not failed - and anyone at the recreation center on weekday mornings can attest to it.

"Age is just a number," she said. "You have to make yourself move, but too many people sit back.

"You have to move a little and get out among people," she added. "Even if you come to the track and walk just one lap, you are moving and seeing other people."

Their first spring season

Shady Hill Gardens was a popular nursery and garden center for years in Batavia and then Elburn.

The Heidgen family owned and operated Shady Hill until last fall when they sold the business to Crystal Lake-based Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center.

New owners Brent Troost and "JP" made their debut last September but opened two weeks ago for the first spring season for Countryside at the 42W075 Route 38 location in Elburn.

"It's going fantastic here, and we are super excited," Troost said.

Though he doesn't like pointing to anything positive related to the pandemic, Troost did note Countryside benefited in that so many people stayed home and, in turn, paid more attention to their landscapes or took up gardening.

"Our industry was always asking how we could capture the minds of millennials who can't put down their iPhones and iPads and Android tablets," Troost said. "How do we get their attention?"

The pandemic pushed many of these people "to get their hands in the dirt a little bit," Troost added. "I think they are hooked now."

Countryside should be busy as it plans for an artisan market in the fall and, eventually, some workshops and seminars, which currently take place only at the Crystal Lake site.

The site has products customers will find similar to Shady Hill Gardens but a larger assortment, with much of it grown on-site. But Troost said bigger plans are in the immediate future.

"Our ultimate goal here is to be open year-round, and we will accomplish that goal this year," he said.

Pitching the flower shop

A recent thread on Facebook had Barbara Erdmenger Bargman notifying followers she is retiring and selling her Swaby's Flower Shop at 1150 N. Fifth Ave. in St. Charles.

She calls it a "115-year-old turnkey business," and she's been running the place pretty much by herself for the past 30 years.

Many who have been in the St. Charles area most of their lives know that a lot of flowers they have seen or received on holidays, prom nights, weddings and funerals may have come from Swaby's.

We wish Barbara luck in her retirement and hope someone else with a good eye for floral arrangements and a passion for growing and maintaining flowers comes along.

If anyone needed encouragement to take over Swaby's, the comments from past customers on the thread would do the trick. From one thanking the store for the lovely flower boxes their mother bought there in the 1950s and 1960s to numerous general tributes for the great work that has unfolded at this St. Charles floral haven.

Bringing back Caribou

As Dimple's Donuts reopened last week at 1307 E. Main St. in St. Charles, the owners made a good decision regarding coffee offerings.

The shop will feature Caribou coffee, which hasn't had a stand-alone site in this area since it closed on Geneva's Third Street more than a decade ago.

Over the years, many people have mentioned that they wished Caribou had stayed. Now there is a place to get the Caribou coffee brew.

Dunkin' gets pretty high praise for its coffee as well, so Dimple's is making a good move here to offer a satisfying combo as well.

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