Everyone dreams of beating the odds and achieving greatness in his or her lifetime. But the likelihood of statistical anomalies coming to fruition in your favor can be a sobering reality check.
The odds of winning an Academy Award, for instance, are around 1 in 11,500. The odds of getting a royal flush on the first hand of a poker game are 1 in 649,740.
While Del Matheson was preparing the mailing list for his 60-year Iowa high school reunion, it was the first time he gave thought to the fact that all of his classmates were still alive. He figured the chances of that were somewhere in the one in a million range.
He was off by more than he could have possibly realized.
All 14 members of the Ringsted High School graduating class of 1958 are still alive. The odds of that happening are a 1 in 177,467,459 chance.
The graduates, who all range between the ages of 77 and 79, are within the range of average life expectancy in the United States. But the fact that all of the 14 graduates have averted mortal demise is remarkable.
That’s not to say there haven’t been close calls.
Kenneth Pederson nearly passed away in 2017 because of an aortic aneurysm. He clung to life desperately from a hospital bed for several weeks before pulling through.
“He’s ornery,” Pederson’s wife, Betty, told the Des Moines Register of her husband.
“We all talk about who will be the first to die,” Matheson told the Des Moines Register. “It’s like a contest.”
The classmates keep in touch throughout the year despite having gone their separate ways. The 14 graduates are now scattered among six different states.
The class has even outlived the building where they went to school. Ringsted High School no longer exists, a product of the rural town’s diminished population, and the building has been bulldozed.
“We always joke that we are all still alive and how lucky we are. We see it as something to strive for. But we did nothing. It was a gift,” said Matheson.
The class meets for a reunion every five years, and the get-togethers typically received 100 percent attendance. With each passing reunion, they get more precious.
Members of the Ringsted class of ’58 give an array of different reasons for their longevity. But none of them are quite sure what the secret is.
There are a myriad of different reasons why the entire graduating class has survived, though not definite answers. Whether it’s chalked up to luck, good genes, or their rural lifestyle growing up, each argument has its detractors.
“Many of our parents died shortly after high school graduation, so we don’t have a good record there,” Matheson said.
“We were raised organic,” Lois Platter (nee Jensen), told the Des Moines Register.
The secret to their longevity is increasingly the topic of discussion when the group gets together. The one thing they all seem to agree on, though, is that their earnest, wholesome lives played a determining role in their happiness later in life.
“Deep down, we all knew that if we didn’t guide our own ship, nobody was going to do it for us, so we went about staying in the wheelhouse and working at it,” Matheson said.
Perhaps it was knowing they were part of something bigger than themselves that kept them all going. Now, 60 years later, they reconvene in their hometown and talk about the old times.
There’s no way of knowing how many more reunions they’ll get in the future, but nothing can take away the precious past they’ve all shared together.