Woman who survived 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, said follow the rules to survive coronavirus, dies at 105

KANKAKEE, Ill. (WLS) -- A woman who survived the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 and urged Americans to follow the rules to live through the COVID-19 pandemic died Friday at 105.

Agnes Gresen was living with her nephew, Brian, in Kankakee.

Brian said Friday his aunt "picked a beautiful day to travel."

Agnes spoke with ABC 7 Chicago last month about her experience living through the Spanish flu outbreak in the early 20th century.

"I remember we had the epidemic, my dad and all of the five children, including me, were in bed with the flu and my mother died," she said. "Died at the age of 29 with the flu."

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Agnes was only a baby, but the horrible stories her family told her stuck with her.

"There was no medication. People would just fall down on the ground because they were so weak and sick, and they died," she said.

A decade later came the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression.

"And we didn't have any food," Agnes recalled. "And my dad lived on the farm and we lived up in Kankakee, and he brought us a whole bushel basket, it was meat and all vegetables for us to eat. That's how we survived. We didn't have no food. Nothing."

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And now there's COVID-19. Agnes fears history could repeat itself.

"Too many people are not doing what they are supposed to do, like wearing masks," she said. "Now we are confined to the house. I haven't been out of the house for I don't know how long."

Agnes' nephew Brian and his wife are taking care of her these days. They said it all really hit home Saturday, when a neighbor of 45 years died from the virus in a nursing home, shortly after the woman's roommate had also died from COVID-19.

"They moved the other lady out, and Gloria died the next day," Agnes said. "I knew it was going to happen and they are going to suffer; you see people suffer through your life, you know that. So I'm glad it was over."

She said some of that suffering could be over if people would just follow the rules.

"Everybody knows what it's like. They see on TV how many people died in Illinois, how many died in another state. They know what to do and if they know what to do, they should do it," she said.

Asked if she's afraid, the former ballroom dancer who stopped driving at 103 said she isn't.

"No, I'm not afraid. I have God's wisdom. I'm not afraid of anything," said Agnes. "If I get it, I know he will take care of me."

Agnes still exercised daily and painted her entire house when she was 93.
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