Bernice “B” Bode and her great-granddaughter, Jasmin Sauer, have similar personalities and they enjoy spending time together—in much the same way that intergenerational members of many families do.
But Bernice and Jasmin’s relationship is unique because they are 100 years apart in age. Bode, who lives at Loma Clara Senior Living in Morgan Hill, was born in the spring of 1921. Jasmin, who lives in Hollister with her parents Sam (Bode’s grandson) and Tania Sauer, was born in the fall of 2021.
The highlight of both their typical week is when the Sauers come to visit Bernice—sometimes multiple times a week—in Morgan Hill. Jasmin enjoys sharing breakfast with her great-grandmother and is always eager to help push B’s wheelchair around her assisted living community. She likes to shampoo and brush her great-grandmother’s hair, with her father’s assistance.
“It’s life all over again,” Bernice said of being able to spend time with Jasmin. “She’s an active one.”
Bernice’s daughter, Angela Bode, said her mother and granddaughter have similar energy.
“I think Jasmin may be a lot like her. She’s just intrepid,” said Angela, a retired teacher for Gilroy Unified School District. “She’s raring to go and she doesn’t seem to be fearful of anything.”
Sam Sauer, 43, agreed, noting that his grandmother has always been “on the go” and independent. She raised his mother Angela, Bernice’s only child, by herself after her husband, Herman, died in the late 1950s. She hiked regularly with “volksmarching” groups well into her 70s, and has traveled extensively all over the world—including to Europe (eight times), China, Australia and beyond.
Despite some persistent allergy symptoms and mobility limitations, Bernice’s health is in good shape, according to her family.
“We always felt, when we were younger, that granny was going to have longevity. No signs of slowing down,” said Sam, a teacher at Gilroy High School. “She was always vibrant and on the go. It’s not a surprise that here we are and she’s 102.”
Bernice Bode was born in Medford, Minn., during President Warren G. Harding’s administration. She lived in Indiana, Illinois and Florida while pursuing her teaching career, which eventually brought her to southern California in the 1950s.
She was a child during the Great Depression, when her family couldn’t afford to buy her a winter coat and she would “just shiver a lot.”
“(But) we were happy,” Bernice said. “We didn’t know we were poor. Everybody was poor.”
Her first teaching job paid $50 per month, “every month, whether you needed it or not,” she said.
The family’s roots took hold in the South Valley when Bode moved to Gilroy in the early 1990s to live with her daughter and help raise her kids, Sam and Julia. Bernice had just retired after 42 years of teaching—another aspect of her life that has carried on to later generations.
“I just liked working with kids,” B said. She recalled one year at a school in Chicago, she had 56 students and only 55 desks in her classroom. “Somebody had to be absent every day,” she laughed.
Sam and Tania have lived together in Hollister, where Tania grew up, for about 12 years. There the couple have raised Jasmin and their 9-year-old son, Jesse. Tania is also a teacher, having taught at Hollister High School before Jasmin was born.
Shortly after moving to Gilroy, Bernice pursued her passion for gardening as a volunteer docent at Gilroy Gardens. For many years prior to that, Bernice had been an avid rosarian, cultivating roses for a hobby. In southern California at one point, she served as president of the Riverside Rose Society.
Bernice’s religious faith has always been an important part of her life, and Sam said they still on occasion take her to church at Apostles Lutheran in San Jose.
Bernice moved to Loma Clara in 2020. There, she continues to practice her gardening skills by helping to arrange flower bouquets, according to Loma Clara Activity Director Rebecca DiRubio.
The assisted living facility recently recognized Bernice and her many travels and accomplishments as part of the ongoing “This is Your Life” program, which focuses on a different resident for each installment, DiRubio explained.
Bernice has recently caught the attention of a group of researchers from Albert Einstein University who are studying centenarians and why some people live so much longer than most, Sam explained. The researchers have visited Bernice at Loma Clara for interviews as part of the study.
When asked what she thinks has contributed to her mother’s long, healthy life, Angela Bode said, “I think everything in moderation. She’s always tried to take care of herself. She has a very strong faith in God, and I think she’s been blessed.”
Bernice had a similar thought when posed with the same question: “The blessing of the Lord, I guess.”