'For me, it is a miracle'

At age 94, Grazina Amonas decided it was time she learned to use a computer so she could stay in touch with relatives in her native Lithuania.

Relatives in Europe had urged her to get a computer, but she initially rejected their pleas, saying "I'm too old."

Finally, she relented. "Everyone over there is on the computer," she said.

Amonas took a free course in entry-level computer use from Janet Anderson at the Ashland Public Library and started to get the hang of it, although controlling that arrow crawling around the screen, and the wheel and clickers on the mouse, seemed a mystery when she started.

"It was very difficult at first," she recalled. "The arrow (cursor) was going everywhere but where I wanted."

It didn't take her long to realize what she'd been missing.

"When they (at the free lessons) showed me how to get the news online from Lithuania, I saw that, even at my age, I could handle it," she said.

A week ago, Amonas sent her first e-mail to a nephew in Vilnius. When she got a reply on her new $700 Dell laptop, she was amazed and delighted.

"For me, it is a miracle," she said. "I'm curious about anything new, all the new developments in technology."

She has set The New York Times as her home page, and already learned she can Google anything in the universe. Now she can't wait to wire up her new webcam and talk to relatives on Skype.

Computer consultant Nancy Parker has been giving Amonas lessons at home, and helping her learn how to use her address book, make an attachment to an e-mail, play a CD and paste a link.

"I just feel so honored (to teach her)," Parker said. "She's inspired me. She's brave, fearless, smart and not afraid to make mistakes. I'm very proud of her."

Amonas told a visitor about her childhood in Lithuania and how World War II changed her life. Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets in 1940, invaded by the Germans in 1941 and reoccupied by the Soviets after they drove out the Germans in 1944. To escape the Soviets, the family fled to Austria.

She was working as a physical therapist in a Vienna hospital when Allied bombers came, destroying her residence three times, but not hitting the hospital, where she was hiding patients in the basement.

"Everyone would prepare for it," she recalled. "You'd sit in the basement and wait for it to be over. I lost everything from my country," she said.

"You learn what's destined to be destroyed and you don't go dig it out. I went home once and half of it was gone. The next time, the whole block was gone. Some people in the basement at the hospital would get emotional and start to cry. I said if it was my destiny, then let it be."

She emigrated to the United States in 1949, with sponsorship from another Lithuanian emigré (living in Los Angeles), she'd met during the 1936 Olympics.

She taught French at Lindenwood University in Missouri for 25 years, then retired to the San Francisco Bay area to care for her aging older brother. When he died in 2000, she moved to Ashland with a friend who is now her neighbor.

Parker credits Amonas' resiliency and curiosity to her nature.

"She's cheerful, an absolute delight and very positive," said Parker.

When asked the secret of longevity, Amonas, the last survivor of five children, smiled.

"I've wondered about that myself," she said. "I was very active in sports when I was younger. I skied till I was 80 and I still swim at the Y. I try to be positive although sometimes it's not too easy. I accept things as they come."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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