Coronavirus

‘She’s a fighter’: 102-year-old woman survived both 1918 flu and COVID-19

“She thinks surviving the 1918 flu gave her tremendous immunity to everything.”

Worcester Mayor's Office
Worcester native Mildred Geraldine "Gerrie" Schappals, 102, poses for a photo with her daughter, Julia Schappals (left) and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty (right) after receiving an honorary key to the city.

Mildred Geraldine “Gerrie” Schappals has survived not just one, but two global pandemics.

The 102-year-old Worcester native overcame the Spanish flu back in 1918, and then contracted the coronavirus this past spring.

She managed to recover from COVID-19, and credits the first pandemic with boosting her immunity.

“She thinks she was given a lot of immunity as a result of having the 1918 flu,” said her daughter, Julia Schappals.

It’s a feat that not many people can boast about, and one that earned her special recognition from her hometown. On Saturday Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty drove up to New Hampshire to visit Schappals at her assisted living facility in Nashua, and presented her with an honorary key to the city.

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“She survived two pandemics,” said Petty. “She’s gone through a lot. She’s a fighter.”

Schappals was born and raised in Worcester. She was educated in the Worcester public schools and then graduated from the State Teachers College at Fitchburg (now known Fitchburg State University). She was a teacher at the Abbott Street School in Worcester and then moved to Washington DC to teach. She later became an elementary school principal in Nashua and worked as an administrator in the Nashua public schools.

She goes by the nickname “Gerrie” because she doesn’t particularly like her first name, according to her daughter. “She said being named Mildred was the worst curse you could put on a girl,” she said with a laugh.

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Julia Schappals said she grew up hearing stories about how her mother survived the 1918 flu as an infant.

“She thinks surviving the 1918 flu gave her tremendous immunity to everything,” she said. “Growing up I never saw her get a cold or the flu.”

Back in May, Schappals had a fever and her temperature spiked. She was tested for COVID-19 and the results came back positive. “By that time, she had recovered,” said Julia Schappals. “It was a light case.”

In addition to the two pandemics, Julia Schappals said her mother survived two bouts of cancer. She also had to get a shoulder replacement after she injured herself while trying to rescue a frog from a backyard pool. “For years afterward people gave her frogs as gag gifts,” she said with a chuckle.

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Julia Schappals said one of the secrets to her mother’s health and longevity is not to stress out and worry about things.

“Don’t worry about things. She always said the things you’re worrying about now won’t matter years from now,” said Julia. “So don’t sweat it.”

Julia said her mother was honored to receive the key to the city of Worcester last weekend.

“She was very impressed,” she said.

When the mayor showed up at her assisted living facility, “she got on a first name basis with him right away, and called him Joe, instead of Mr. Mayor,” she said.

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“It was really lovely,” she said. “We were very touched.”

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