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UP ‘supercentenarian’ marks 111th birthday

Hancock resident toasts with family, friends

Julia Dennis of Hancock toasts her 111th birthday in front of the cards she received from across the country.

HANCOCK — A Hancock native recently marked a milestone few people accomplish: 111 years.

Julia Dennis toasted her birthday Sept. 10 with a glass of wine with family and friends at Portage Pointe Nursing Home in Hancock.

She enjoyed seeing all her family, as well as having cake at a special outdoor gathering, said her granddaughter, Kay Campbell, who lives in Florence, Wis.

Dennis received more than 150 cards wishing her a “happy birthday” from across the country, from as far as Alaska and Florida.

Portage Pointe staff created a map highlighting every state from which she received a card.

Julia Dennis celebrates her great milestone of turning 111 years old at Portage Pointe Nursing Home in Hancock.

Campbell said when she posted a note on social media asking for birthday cards, she had hoped her grandmother would get 111.

“I was tickled she received so many cards,” Campbell said. “She was so happy and read every one of them.”

Dennis was born Sept. 10, 1909, in Hancock, to Anna and Frederick Carlson.

She worked as a certified public accountant, owning her own business until she was 70. Even after selling the business, she kept a few clients until she turned 90.

“She was a pioneer of her time — women didn’t own their own businesses back then,” Campbell said.

Dennis never drove a car, opting instead to walk or take a taxi.

She remained active her entire life. At 100, she still was shoveling snow.

Campbell said her “nana” always treated her and her sisters with love. “We would call anything that was soft and squishy their ‘nana,’ because it reminded them of her love,” she said.

Her pantry in her kitchen was filled with baked goods and treats. She would let her granddaughters share with the neighbor children, who referred to her as “Auntie Jo.”

One of Campbell’s memories of her “nana” was she would allow them to brush her hair 100 times each, to avoid a fight over who got to do it.

At age 97, she finally got to tour the Quincy Mine in Houghton, but once was enough, she said, declaring she would “never do that again — too cold and damp.”

Even when she was 100, she still offered to babysit her great-grandchildren.

She remained in her home until she reached 105, when she moved to the assisted living facility.

When she was 108, the Keweenaw Brewing Company went to the Portage Pointe to make beer with the residents. They were so impressed with her involvement they named a cherry wheat beer after her, “Julia 108” and she was the first to tap the barrel.

Dennis still walks and cleans her own room.

“She tells everyone she is at the facility to take care of the old people,” she said.

Dennis never missed a day of church at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hancock, where she is a lifelong member, until the pandemic.

She has three granddaughters, Kay (Dan) Campbell of Florence, Wis., Kim (Dave) Stevenson of Ann Arbor, Mich. and Debbie (Erik) Besko of Hales Corners, Wis.; six great-grandchildren, Garrett Ambuehl of Ada, Minn., Acie Ambuehl of Fargo, N.D., Kaden and Kolton Campbell of Florence, Wis., Alex Farmer of Ann Arbor, and Matt (Emily) Besko of Wisconsin; one great-great-granddaughter, Lilly Besko; and many nieces and nephews, including a special niece, Kathy Goulette.

She was preceded in death by her son and daughter-in-law, Skip and Pat Dennis of Kingsford.

When asked her secret to longevity, she credited being a “stubborn Swede.”

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