A century - and then some - of memories: Spring Grove resident turns 108

Lillian Bennett says airplanes are the biggest change she’s seen in her lifetime

Spring Grove resident Lillian Bennett watches her 108th birthday party parade go by Feb. 24, 2024

Almost two dozen cars, decked out with birthday-themed decor, drove by the home of Spring Grove resident Lillian Bennett’s home to wish her a happy 108th birthday Saturday.

In honor of Bennett’s birthday, her son Dean De Pew set a lofty goal of getting 108 cars out for a surprise parade. That dream didn’t become reality, but a Spring Grove Fire Protection District truck turned on its sirens and led the way for the parade.

Well-wishers honked their horns and waved, some handing Bennett and her family cards and gifts. Bennett had no idea about the parade but that wasn’t her only surprise of the day.

Spring Grove resident Lillian Bennett watches her 108th birthday party parade go by Feb. 24, 2024

Two of De Pew’s nephews and their families came up from Florida to celebrate. Bennett, however, didn’t think the occasion was particularly momentous, describing the parade as “shocking” and “surprising.”

“It’s just a birthday,” Bennett said. “I’m just one day older than I was yesterday.”

Dean DePew’s friend Jeannette Girten helped organize the parade. “It was just a thought,” Girten said of the parade idea.

Bennett has seen many changes over the years. She married Alfred De Pew in the 1930s and had four children: Dave, Dean, Kathy and Marie.

Alfred De Pew passed away in the 1970s, and Bennett later remarried.

In addition to her four children, she has 15 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and 22 great-great-grandchildren, Dean De Pew said, the youngest of whom is younger than 1 year old.

Eight years ago, the family surprised Bennett with a 100th birthday celebration at Gurnee Community Church.

She said 83 people showed up to the celebration, including someone from the Philippines.

The village of Spring Grove honored Bennett with a proclamation at Tuesday’s Village Board meeting. The proclamation noted all of the changes Bennett has seen, noting she “even survived her Grandmothers wrath when caught dancing ‘The Charleston.’”

“The president of the village was ... gracious,” Dean De Pew said.

Bennett said airplanes have been the biggest change she has witnessed over her lifetime. She said people noticed planes at first, but now “nobody pays any attention to them.”

Spring Grove resident Lillian Bennett looks at a birthday card following her 108th birthday party parade Feb. 24, 2024.

Bennett wasn’t as certain about changes that might come over the next 100 years. “Heaven help us, I don’t know,” Bennett said.

She credits healthy habits to her longevity. “It just happened,” she said when asked the secret to her longevity. “I never smoked and drank.”

This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Jeannette Girten’s name.