5/23/2023 | By Noor Adatia

What’s the secret to a long life? What about the secret to life? You could ask the doctors, or you could ask someone who has achieved longevity. 104-year-old Rhea Wolfram talked with writer Noor Adatia about her formula.

At 104 years old, Rhea Wolfram still considers herself active.

“Life is to be lived,” she said. “Even though it’s painful sometimes, it’s what kept me going.”

Wolfram, who turned 104, has worn many hats over the years, shaping the lives of young people and affecting the fabric of the Dallas community.

“I can’t believe it,” she said about her birthday.

She said it’s this optimism that has led her down many paths and allowed her to experience the richness of life. To this day, she maintains a variety of hobbies, including knitting, swimming and reading, which she believes are necessary for everyone.

Wolfram’s life trajectory has been somewhat all-encompassing. Born in Newport News, Virginia, Wolfram started as a journalist, then became an elementary school teacher and, later, an air raid warden. Eventually moving to Dallas with her husband at the age of 27, Wolfram stumbled across a career in college counseling and served on the boards of many Jewish organizations.

Despite the hardships she has faced along the way, Wolfram takes pride in being a risk-taker. She said she gains inspiration from her father, who turned 100 before passing away, and keeps a portrait of him in her living room.

“It is important to learn how to be resilient, and that comes from learning from your mistakes and failures,” she said.

‘Catalyst for change’

Wolfram wants to be remembered as a “catalyst for change” in the lives of students and young people.

She began her college counseling work on a volunteer basis for her friends’ children. As a stay-at-home mom in Dallas, she browsed through college brochures and course catalogs to gain insight into the collegiate world.

studnets on a college campus.

“I was interested in making the right match,” she said. “I was a great believer in finding out the students’ strengths and helping them improve their weaknesses.”

Shortly after advising her friends, Wolfram was offered a position as a part-time counselor by the head of The Greenhill School, which she says launched her career in the profession.

After 18 years at the private school, she formed her own counseling practice, placing hundreds of students in colleges where they could thrive and guiding them on their academic journeys.

“The people I’ve worked with, I have made them realize they’re a person, not a number,” she said. “They have texture, and that doesn’t always come with a grade.”

Growing up in Virginia, Wolfram said her parents instilled in her the value of a good education, which she hopes to pass on to future generations. She remains in contact with a number of her students; that’s the most rewarding aspect of her work.

“I always refer to Rhea as my daughter’s other mother,” said Nancy Crossman, a parent of someone who benefited from Wolfram’s counseling.

Through private counseling, Wolfram helped Crossman’s daughter Angela, who wanted to go to school outside of a city, gain admission at Dartmouth College.

“I think Rhea’s gift is that she sees into the children’s hearts and minds,” Nancy Hodge, another parent, testified. Hodge added that Wolfram was able to detect her daughter’s perceptive and open-hearted personality, which eventually led to her admission at Mount Holyoke College.

Hodge’s daughter, Lindsay, still visits her former college counselor to catch up on life, often doing needlepoint while they talk.

“I’m always upset when people compare their children,” Wolfram said. “Every child has their own inventory of activities and talents.”

Related: Do Blue Zones offer the secret to longevity?

Student of the world

Wolfram said she’s learned from every experience she’s had so far, including as a Boy Scout and Girl Scout leader, camp counselor and even as a bookseller.

Her interests — along with her steadfast faith — have fueled her throughout her life.

“I have deep faith that has enabled me to pull through in very demanding situations,” she said.

She remains involved in the Jewish community, especially at Temple Emanu-El, where she has served on many committees and overseen leadership changes.

Over the last 70 years, she’s also seen Dallas evolve, which has compelled her to learn more about the world, especially from her former students. A patron of the arts, Wolfram said she is happy to see Dallas make gains in this sector and develop museums that have helped put the city on the map.

“It’s moving from adolescence to maturity,” she said of the city.

Secret to life

party paraphernalia - hats, balloons, cupcakes

There is no secret to a long life, Wolfram said — just a fulfilling one.

“Eating healthy, exercise,” Wolfram advised. “Try to be an optimist and see both sides of the equation.”

The lively 104-year-old still goes to the pool, attends lectures and frequents the opera and symphony. Experiencing things firsthand and connecting with others, she says, is the best way to lead a meaningful life.

“She always has room in her heart for one more person,” said Crossman, a close friend of around 40 years.

Looking back at her life, Wolfram has only a few regrets, including never going on a cruise or traveling to South America. But she’s grateful for everywhere she has traveled and everyone she’s met.

“She walks into a room and she’s such a presence, not trying to get attention,” Crossman said. “She is just a wonderful presence who is going to engage with people and get to know them.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. 

FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Rhea Wolfram pictured in her apartment on Monday, April 17, 2023, in Dallas. Wolfram will be 104 years old on April 19. (Elías Valverde II/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Noor Adatia