Hildegard Buschhaus fled Soviet-occupied Poland as a refugee at the end of World War II, settled and married in West Germany, and eventually emigrated to Canada in 1974.
The 87-year-old Coombs artist’s next destination on her world tour is Korea — and she never had to leave Vancouver Island to get there.
A production crew from the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) spent parts of two days last week with Buschhaus and her husband, Gunter, interviewing the couple for an episode on “super seniors.” The program, which will air Jan. 6 in Korea, is part of a medical documentary series whose name translates to Life, Aging, Illness and Death.
In addition to interviews with medical professionals, each episode of the program profiles several of these seniors, many of whom are more than 100 years old.
“I’m only 87; I don’t know why they wanted to talk to me,” said Buschhaus. “I got a call from a KBS researcher in Los Angeles and she said she read some stories on the internet about my running in the B.C. Seniors Games.
“That came out of the blue.”
Buschhaus does not simply run in the event, now called the B.C. 55+ Games. For more than a decade she has brought home as many as 10 medals a year — most of them gold —and set a pair of B.C. masters records in her age group.
“We were researching about seniors who have athletic talent,” said Sangmee An, a KBS producer who traveled from Korea to oversee segments on two Canadian seniors.. “We were looking at Olga (Kotelko, of Calgary), and she had mentioned Hildegard.”
In 2011, Kotelko and Buschhaus were part of a Canadian women’s 80-over team that smashed the world age-group record in the 4×200 relay. An said when the Korean researchers learned Kotelko died last year at age 95, they turned their gaze to Buschhaus.
“This is a special report to celebrate the new year,” said Mia Lee, a Los Angeles-based production coordinator, researcher and translator. “We’re finding an increasing number of elders who are staying healthy and active longer and longer. We want to find their secrets to that longevity.”
Lee and An were joined by camerman Sung-Ju Park and sound technician Dae-Hyoung Cho in Coombs last Thursday. The team spent Thursday evening at the home of Gunter and “Hildy”, then joined the couple Friday at the Bradley Centre in Coombs, where they were part of a large volunteer group putting on a monthly seniors luncheon.
Sung-Ju Park, foreground, and Dae-Hyoung Cho, right, capture the action for a Korean Broadcasting System documentary as Gunter and Hildegard Buschhaus of Coombs engage in a table tennis match with friends at the Bradley Centre in Coombs Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
The KBS crew photographed Buschhaus preparing multiple stock pots of homemade soup, serving food and coffee to more than 100 guests and playing ping pong with Gunter and two other seniors after the meal. They also interviewed several other members of the Mid-Island Pensioners and Hobbyists Association, which Buschhaus has headed as president for 22 years.
As it turns out, the “secrets” to the longevity of the Buschhauses and others like them aren’t really that secret, after all.
“First of all, it’s a mental thing,” Gunter Buschhaus said. “Everything you do starts with thoughts. Then, you take action on those ideas. Hildy is an artist; she works with her mind and her hands. The third part is harvesting the fruits of that labour, and the fourth is saying, ‘Thank you, that I was able to do that.’
“That’s an important part.”
Hildy’s “thank you” takes the form of her community volunteer work, and she has been giving for many years. In 1985, at the age of 56, she walked across Canada to raise money for the blind and collected more than $25,000, despite scant media attention at the time.
She grew up in Poland, and her youth was shaped by the outbreak and course of the Second World War. Sixteen years old when the war ended, she embarked on an exodus to escape the postwar Soviet occupation.
“She had been in a boarding school, and when the war ended she was sent home. But she didn’t go,” said Gunter. “She left in January, in the middle of winter when it was minus-20, and she took six months to get to West Germany.”
Gunter, who grew up in a small village outside Wuppertal, was 18 when the war ended. He never fought for the Nazis, but was conscripted into the Luftwaffenhelfer, a cadre of German students tasked with helping the military’s anti-aircraft batteries.
“I survived that,” he said, simply. “I met Hildegard there in 1948.”
After they married, Gunter served the postwar reconstruction effort as a construction engineer.
“I started in 1955, but there was still a lot of work,” he said. “Hildy and I were as poor as a churchmouse; we had nothing. But we had our hands.”
They use those hands now to help serve the community, with the help of many other volunteers in the Pensioners and Hobbyists Association. And that, as much as anything, seems to have played a major role in her active longevity.
Ask what she found to be Buschhaus’s secret to longevity, Lee laughed.
“That she’s so positive,” Lee said. “She has an active social life built around giving back to the community. And also that she knows you need to keep challenging yourself with exercise — vigorously and continuously.”
Hildy herself put it somewhat more succinctly in a 2011 interview with NEWS reporter James Clarke.
“If you rest, you rust,” she said.
Hildegard Buschhaus, centre, serves coffee while a Korean Broadcast System crew records the 87-year-old for a documentary during a monthly seniors luncheon at the Bradley Centre in Coombs Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS