At 105, her knees wobble but the funny bone's strong

Peter Zuzga
Judy Kopp at a meeting of the Wauwatosa Senior Club on Tuesday. When asked what the secret to making it to 105 is, Judy responded, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I just run around with wild men.”
Published on: 3/6/2012

Some might call it good genes, others good luck. Making it to 105 years of age for Judy Kopp was as simple as her snappy one-liner, "I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, I just ran around with wild men."

"Everyone always says I have no vices and I didn't know what to say, so that's what I tell them," said Kopp, who celebrated her 105th birthday March 2.

Kopp, a Wauwatosa resident and honorary member of the Wauwatosa Senior Club, celebrated her milestone birthday with a luncheon and small gathering at the senior center Tuesday. Kopp, who has two children, lived to see the birth of numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even two great-great-grandchildren.

"She just has a wonderful outlook on life," said Kathy Gagas, co-coordinator of the Wauwatosa Senior Club.

Kopp's memory is as sharp as her sense of humor. She recalled her life up to the events that brought her to Milwaukee in 1927.

Kopp moved from her family farm in Iowa at the age of 4 to South Dakota, where the family homesteaded. Her father, a builder, constructed her family's home at a time when most people in the area lived in sod houses. In her early teens, the family moved back to a farm in Lake Mills, Iowa, where Kopp attended high school. At the age of 19, she was recruited by Hoffman Business College in Milwaukee, and she left home.

"Can you imagine a 19-year-old kid coming all by herself?" Kopp said. She lived with a Milwaukee family on Wisconsin Avenue.

Before starting her career working for a collection agency, Kopp worked for Frederick Pabst Jr. at Pabst Brewery, where she would take notes and write letters.

"Old Frederick Pabst had an elderly woman as a secretary and I was her assistant, and I used to see (Frederick Pabst) every day," Kopp said.

While living near Marquette University, Kopp and her sister would frequent the school's dances. Kopp even made it onto "The Lawrence Welk Show."

It was one of these dances where she met her future husband, Aloys Kopp, who was studying dentistry at Marquette.

"He had a friend that I liked, but (Aloys) chose me so I had no choice," Kopp said, laughing.

They married in 1934 at the Church of the Gesu. In 1937, the couple had a son, Robert. He died from cancer at the age of 7. Although the couple had no more biological children, they adopted two, Kathy and Tom.

Kopp remembers the Great Depression, a grueling time when food was hard to come by.

"Peanuts were 5 cents a bag and they would give away two slices of bread so you would make a peanut sandwich," she said. "Times were tough."

World War II took the couple to San Francisco, where Kopp's husband worked as a Navy dentist for two years. Kopp said most of her adult life was spent caring for her family at a home on 83rd and Hadley streets in Milwaukee, where the couple lived for 66 years.

For years, Kopp was the only one on her street who had a car, so she ended up picking up and dropping off many of the neighborhood children.

Through the years taking care of people, Kopp said she would always wish for time by herself.

"I was one that waited on my family and I would say, 'Please, God, when am I going to have my time?' and he's given me 24 years and now I'm all by myself, so he granted my wish," Kopp said.

Though her husband passed away 23 years ago, her daughter lives nearby and her son lives out of the area.

Although she had been playing bridge and participated in the Wauwatosa Senior Club for the past 20 years, Kopp moved from Milwaukee to The Arboretum assisted living facility in Menomonee Falls last May.

"My knees are bad. I can't hear very well. I can't see very well and I have congestive heart failure," she said, "but I'm here."