Happy and healthy: Married Redbirds share their secrets to living a long life full of love
When Don Magee ’58 met his wife Florence, M.S. ’74, he knew that his life would be changed forever. Married for 61 years, 87-year-old Don and 85-year-old Florence are more in love than when they first met and physically feel healthier than ever.
Don, whose mother attended Illinois State for two years, chose to be a Redbird after his high school football coach encouraged him to pursue his college football career. In addition, he wanted to attend a university with a renowned education program.
Although Don was drafted to the U.S. Army and served from 1953 to 1955, it didn’t stop him from coming back to ISU to receive his physical education and recreation degree and be a proud member of the Redbird football team. He also found himself involved with the dance committee and working as a telephone operator in the residence halls. Needless to say, Don made the most of his time as a student at ISU.
Upon graduating, Don started his career coaching basketball in Redmond, Illinois. His career aspirations stretched beyond coaching, but life created a wonderful and serendipitous moment for him.
“One of my players on the junior high school basketball team introduced me to Florence,” he said. “She would turn out to be my wife and marrying her is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
After the two married on May 30, 1959, Florence graduated from Eureka College and was working as a secretary. Unsure of where she was headed in her career, her husband encouraged her to attend ISU for her master’s degree. He fully believed that pursuing a master’s in elementary education is where Florence would succeed.
And succeed she did.
Although Florence had a different experience at ISU than Don, she holds fond memories of her time in Normal. She commuted to her classes with friends from Eureka because they were pursuing degrees at the same time.
“While working on my masters, the classes and instructors were fantastic,” Florence said. “Although we weren’t involved in clubs, we were working toward a goal together and that felt great.”
After receiving her master’s degree from ISU, Don and Florence found positions that fulfilled their coaching and teaching aspirations. Lifelong learners, the two decided to take one step further and go back to school for doctoral degrees in education from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. When Don graduated in 1985 and Florence in 1988, the two sought out careers that they excelled in.
Don was the superintendent of schools in Eureka and then moved to two other communities to pursue superintendent jobs. When the time came to retire, he moved with Florence to Georgia.
“We intended to stay retired in Georgia, but I couldn’t,” Don explained. “I was asked to serve as the director of the Presbyterian church preschool program. I told them I would stay for six months, but I retired from that job 12 years later.”
Florence, on the other hand, after teaching in Eureka, began teaching at ISU. She taught senior education majors how to teach reading to their future students. Living and teaching in Bloomington was something special for both Florence and Don.
“I ended up with 37 years in education,” Florence said. “I taught until I was 80. I loved it so much and missed it when I was finished.”
“Florence was the best teacher,” added Don. “Her colleagues and I said that if anyone could teach a rock how to read, it was Dr. Florence Magee.”
It’s true that Don and Florence were a dynamic duo in education. Career aspirations were always important to the two, but as the aging process took its course, they developed a newfound love for not only their health, but for each other.
In 1981, Don made a commitment to his health that would change his life forever. He began doing push-ups. Not just a few sets a day, but 1,000 a day. Then he increased it to over 1,500 a day for a total over about 11,000 a week. One day in 2019, he set a goal to do 5,000 push-ups in one day. And he succeeded.
“I’ve been doing them for so long, it’s second nature to me,” said Don, who recently turned 87 years old. Now, he does 1,000 push-ups first thing in the morning, along with other physical activities throughout the day, which include walking and bike rides with Florence, doing his own lawn work, and occasionally playing tennis and golf.
He attributes this drive to his competitiveness in sports when he played football at ISU. When he returned from the service, he was forced to compete with bigger and faster teammates, but he was willing to do anything to be a part of the team. In fact, he became the captain of the team his senior year.
As for Florence, she’s the one who inspired Don to embark on his push-up journey, when she received an arthritis diagnosis and decided to combat it with a healthy lifestyle change. The 85-year-old aims to get about 15,000 steps a day, at least.
“She’s a workout nut,” Don said. “I knew I had to do something to try to keep up with her. I realized I could do a lot of push-ups— something that not many could do.”
Don and Florence also focus a lot on nutrition, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, while avoiding red meat. Don puts heavy emphasis on setting goals and staying away from things that could be harmful to his body.
Although the pandemic has forced the two to change their routines, Don hasn’t had a problem with his 1,000 push-ups a day, and Florence surpasses her step goals by miles trotting around the neighborhood. Their passion for health has made them feel better than they ever have in 85 and 87 years, which has been beneficial in all aspects of their lives.
“Because we do these physical things, we feel good,” Florence said. “When we feel good, we can do a lot of things, both mentally and physically.
The two have grown closer as a result of this healthy lifestyle change after retirement, and their marriage is strong and growing stronger each day.
“One thing that has strengthened our relationship is doing things that we enjoy doing together,” Don said. “We had a lot of things in common when we grew up, and we still do today.”
Although the two didn’t have money in the early years of their relationship, one thing they had in common was ambition. Along with that, they both enjoyed traveling, dancing, and reading.
One thing the two learned from being married for 61 years is to put money in the savings account every month. Having not missed a month in savings since they’ve been married, Don and Florence now get to enjoy life to the fullest during retirement in Georgia.
They’ve enjoyed each other and their life together with children and grandchildren near and far.
“We’ve had such a wonderful ride,” Florence added. “I think the respect we both have for each other is basic. The love that we’ve experienced is surreal and we’ve been very blessed.”
Although Don and Florence are getting older, they are not letting their age stop them from achieving their goals. With patience, love, and respect, people at any age can live a fulfilled and happy life like these Redbirds. Don said this:
“Just because you’re getting older, it doesn’t mean you can’t do things. Take your time and you’ll get it done.