At 91, Sister Madelene Reiners is an 'oldest old,' but she still works, bakes and cheers the Cards
They mingle in her small apartment at Villa Theresa in O’Fallon, Mo.
Rosary beads rest on the side table by her chair. An old black-and-white photo of her mother and father and another of her nine brothers and sisters, all but one of whom have passed away, sit atop a book shelf. And a frame hangs by the front door with photos of the 2011 World Series Champions, a tiny piece of the ball and a few grains of red dirt from the field.
Reiners, 91, was at every playoff and World Series game.
She sits down at her kitchen table and opens a maroon photo album, turning one page after another filled with 16 years worth of Cardinals memories.
“I think they’re gonna be fine,” she said of the team a bit earlier. “And we won’t always be talking about Pujols and the Cardinals. I always thought that wasn’t very nice, because there are others who are very important, too.”
At 91, Reiners is considered an “oldest old,” or a senior age 85 to 95, by the categorization of demographers and gerontologists. From 2000 to 2010, Americans 85 to 94 grew 60 percent (from 2 million to 5 million), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Mobility and health can be two of the biggest issues for oldest olds, but according to Tom Meuser, a clinical psychologist and director of the gerontology graduate program at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, many have come to terms with their lives, with death, and with the lessons they’d like to pass on.
Reiners is home again here now at the O’Fallon campus of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. She first arrived in 1941 from the small Nebraska farm where she grew up milking cows and gathering eggs. Reiners was just 20 and had been teaching in a one-room school house for three years. She didn’t expect to stay in O’Fallon or to join the sisters. She was just visiting one of her own sisters, but her pastor pushed and the novices pulled, she says, and she decided to stay.
Over the years, Reiners continued teaching, at St. John the Baptist in St. Louis, Sacred Heart School in Florissant and St. Paul Parish in O’Fallon, among other places. She then returned to St. John the Baptist, where she spent 10 years as the principal, followed by another 11 as the principal at Holy Family School in St. Louis.
Her plan, at 70, was to retire, but soon the leadership team asked her to take over as the director of development for the community. She didn’t think she was qualified at the time, or even really want the job, but 21 years later, she’s still at it.
Reiners has a way about her that makes people want to get involved and give, says Leah Wand, with communications and public relations at St. Mary’s Institute.
The two women have worked together for 10 years, and Wand thinks Reiners is a great example of what’s possible when you’re determined.
“That’s just the way she is,” Wand says. “Her age does not define her.”
Her love for the Cardinals’ started back on her family’s Nebraska farm, but her partnership with them began around 1995, when she established a Precious Blood Sisters’ Night at Busch Stadium. Most years, Reiners bakes cookies or candy for the players, gets autographed balls for an annual auction, and she has an open invitation to attend any game she wants. She’s seen them in spring training and even thrown out the first pitch twice. She was even at the now-famous game six.
“I just love baseball,” she says.
Reiners' days are quite structured. She thinks that could have something to do with her long and happy life. That, and she always keeps busy.
“I loved every day of my life,” she says.
On her round kitchen table, next to the open photo album, is a color print out of the 2012 Cardinals’ schedule.
April 13 is opening day at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals are playing the Cubs.
And Reiners plans to be there.