Almost oldest Estonian turns 107

Räpina elanik Elle Mälberg (pildil) sai neljapäeval 107 aastaseks.

PHOTO: Margus Ansu

When WWI hit, Elle Mälberg was a little girl of seven. As Republic of Estonia was proclaimed, she was already 10. During the June Coup of 1940, she was a married woman 33 years old. Ms Mälberg is the second eldest person living in Estonia – according to population register, only one is more senior being 109. Ms Mälberg still lives in her house that they built, she and her husband, back at the beginning of 1950ies, in the Stalin Era. A caregiver does come around to help, a couple of times a day. But she still has her wits, and her hands and her feet.

On paper, the eldest one in the world so far lived to be 122. She was a Frenchwoman. I’m asking Ms Mälberg is she knows who’s currently the oldest one on the planet. «Well not me I guess?» offers Ms Mälberg. Nope. It’s Misao Okawa, a lady in faraway Japan, who this March celebrated her 116th birthday. «Oh, so we can go on living,» smiles the lady. «Well, so be it!»

As they come

No plan of Ms Mälberg’s to win the longevity marathon. She takes it one day at a time, as they come. Not complaining, as some are in the habit of doing, why hath God forgotten me? «I must not think that I’m so old,» she chuckles. «Life goes on, nothing doing.» When one thinks too much on one’s age, Elle says it’s gets funny. «How would I know how long! Not for me to know!»

Ildike Jaagosild, wife of the son of Ms Mälberg’s sister, says Elle has never complained being bored with life. «If I would think I can’t take it, I couldn’t live you see,» adds Ms Mälberg. «Day after day here we go, and Riina the caregiver is so kind,» she says. Not able to read the newspapers, the radio is always on.

Probably, those seeking the secret of eternal life are asking what’s the trick? Seems she’s not about to reveal her magic. «That I do not know,» is all we hear. Ms Mälberg lived a highly active social life. She was teacher of science at Räpina School, as well as of physical education, as early as in 1932. She’s breathed in a lot of fresh air, done her share of work. When it comes to food, Ms Mälberg has never had special requirements – she eats whatever is good. She does prefer low fat, though. She doesn’t take long walks any more, just quietly busy at home and in the yard.

Even before 1932, Ms Mälberg was employed as teacher in some village schools, and she’s at loss to remember how many students she’s had. Back then, she also served as a leader of Home Daughters (Kodutütred) – a scouts mission. Ms Mälberg only fully stopped teaching at the beginning of 1980ies. «I’ve had so many students – I used to count them, but I don’t remember any more,» admits Ms Mälberg. Yesterday, she must have had a hard day, as former students – some quite advanced in years – wanted to extend greetings. The birthday girl braved the occasion, at the end of the table, and even downed a little schnapps.

Fleeing Bolsheviks

I’m asking what’s her first memory. «One won’t remember the better things. But I do remember that we had to flee home as the government changed,» related the lady. Some guests suggest that maybe Ms Mälberg is talking about WW2; after further interrogation, turns out Ms Mälberg is right. During the Liberation War, at the end of 1918, Ms Mälberg and parents fled the very Bolsheviks themselves. «Had two horses carrying the load,» she recalls. «Father had sacks of grain on the sleigh – there I did sit, next to him. We went and hid, in Luunja. And we were there till we could go back home.»

Ms Mälberg’s parents had a farm. After the second big war, her sister and mother were taken to Siberia, where Mom was also buried. That still weighs on Elle’s soul.

Yesterday, Ülo Zirnask, an honorary citizen at Räpina Commune came around to say happy birthday. For him, in 1932, Ms Mälberg was the first teacher. «When she came to school, she was so young and sporty – she did teach us physical education, and science.» Mr Zirnask used to be a top sportsman in Estonia. Afterwards, he was a long time teacher at Räpina School of Horticulture.

Mr Zirnask thinks her length of days springs from the quiet disposition. «She never raised he voice at anybody, never yelled,» says the student.

Ms Mälberg has no children, but she does not complain. The students seem to have been enough. «Didn’t seem to have the need for children of my own,» says the lady. Her husband passed away back in 1990.

In her days, Ms Mälberg has seen Russian Czarist power, occupation by German Empire, then the Republic of Estonia, the Soviet occupation, the Nazi occupation, then again a Soviet occupation, and now the Republic of Estonia restored. Which of these times was the best? «I am not able to say which was the best, but we managed them all,» says she.

According to Ms Mälberg, the times have turned difficult again. «If they (Russians) indeed do think straight, then there’s no need to fear Russia,» says Elle. «I still think they should have soundness of mind. I don’t know Putin, of course.» Heartily, Ms Mälberg hopes Mr Putin has it right with his head.

Estonian’s centenarians

As at yesterday, the oldest lady was 109, and the most senior gentleman 104.


•    56 people 100 years of age

•    40 people are 101

•    21 people are 102

•    15 people are 103

•    7 people are 104

•    5 people are 105

•    1 person is 106

•    1 person is 107

•    1 person is 109

Source: interior ministry