CALEDONIA, Mich. — From her wheelchair at a small nursing home in Caledonia, a born-and-raised West Michigan woman received the surprise of a lifetime — a very long lifetime.
“I am 106," smiled Jeanette Heimbecker.
Surrounded by her loving family, Heimbecker celebrated a life well-lived on March 19.
“It’s just wonderful to have them here with me," she said.
The festivities continued two weeks later, as she was honored by her home state of 106 years.
It all happened when State Representative Angela Rigas saw 13 ON YOUR SIDE’S story on Heimbecker in mid-March.
“I was like, there's a lady who was 106 years old in my district! I have to meet her," said Rigas.
She says hearing about her life was heartwarming.
“In this world that we live in, we all could use a little bit more good news, right?” she said.
Rigas wanted to do everything in her power to honor her.
“I felt it was suiting to not only present her award, but come meet her have conversations and ask questions," she said.
The two spent time together in the common area of Heimbecker's nursing home, surrounded by loved ones, on Thursday.
Heimbecker plans to hang the Special Tribute Award in her room next to all the birthday cards and drawings from her great grandchildren.
“I mean, at 106, I would be pretty darn proud," smiled Rigas.
Rigas said giving this award meant much more than just a piece of paper in the frame. To her, it meant community.
“That's what we want to spread throughout the district, is just positivity and good news and just award people for accomplishing their goals and accomplishing great things," she said.
Heimbecker even shared her secret to a long life with Rigas.
“I was thinking it was gonna be diet exercise, right, lots of sleep," said Rigas.
The answer, however, was a bit unexpected.
“They're onions! More power to them," said Heimbecker.
Heimbecker says she grew up eating green onions straight from her garden — but that habit hasn’t changed.
Her family says one of her favorite meals is an onion sandwich, just bread, butter and onions.
She said it’s a tradition she doesn’t plan on giving up on her 106th year.
The advice was surprisingly well-received.
“I eat a lot of onions now," laughed Rigas.
Despite her new local celebrity status, Heimbecker was incredibly thankful for the outpouring of support — she even told Rigas she loved her before she left.
“I might adopt her," laughed Rigas.
The two parted with plans for her 107th.
“I'll come back next year," smiled Rigas.
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