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The City Journals

103-year-old man celebrates birthday dancing at Heritage Center

Mar 31, 2017 09:30AM ● By Bryan Scott

Karl Tinggaard (center, in blue) dances with a partner at the Murray Heritage Senior Center, with others who come every week to participate.

By Mandy Ditto | [email protected]

Karl Tinggaard turned 103 years old on Feb. 27 of this year, and was celebrated at the weekly Heritage Center social dance just days prior. Tinggaard has been attending the regular dance nights for years, said Maureen Gallagher, a program coordinator at the MurrayHeritage Senior Center.

Tinggaard now lives in Taylorsville City where he has spent much of his time in Utah, but is originally from “a little busy country called Denmark,” he said. He moved to the U.S. when he and his wife’s only daughter moved with her two sons to Utah, to follow the advice of Mormon missionaries she met in Denmark.

“We moved here so we could be close to our only daughter,” Tinggaard said. “I’ve had a good time here, I’ve had a wonderful time…I still have, because my great granddaughter takes care of everything.”

He currently lives with his great granddaughter and her daughter, and she “takes care of me every day,” Tinggaard said. His only child and wife have both passed away.

Every week Tinggaard gets a ride to the dance held at the Heritage Center, since he stopped driving at the age of 90.

But he hasn’t stopped dancing.

“I love to dance; I just love it…I wouldn’t miss it as long as I can come,” Tinggaard said. “Now the real reason is that when the ladies are standing there and I go and put my hand around them, they say ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ But when I dance with them, it’s fine...and it is good exercise. They tell me I’m easy to dance with compared to many of the other guys.”

When he isn’t on the dance floor, Tinggaard likes to “read a good book” and watch television. He used to play music as a hobby. Tinggaard was part of an orchestra at one time called The Old Singers, who played music for dances, he said, “because we played the music people liked.” Tinggaard played the violin, but had to stop playing as he got older.

He worked professionally as a mechanical engineer for many years in Utah, first at Westinghouse, and later at the first company to create a Polaroid camera.  

At one time, Tinggaard was asked to give lectures for about six months to a group of people Utah. This was one of his greatest accomplishments, he said.

“When it was over, they wanted to me to continue. I said ‘I can’t, because there is no money allotted to continue,” he said. “But they went to those in charge and they got the money for me to teach another half year. I loved that. They were so happy.”

Besides dancing, another passion of Tinggaard’s is laughing and making other people laugh.

“Every time you laugh one minute, you extend your life one hour,” he said. “I say many dumb things to make people laugh, and it works.”

Judy Summerhays attends each dance to listen to her husband Tony Summerhays play for the dances. She has known Tinggaard for a couple years, since she’s been coming to the dances, and often partners up with him on the dance floor.

“He also does some line dances, as well,” Summerhays said. “He is the nicest guy.”

 Every other person who knows Tinggaard at the Heritage Center says just about the same thing.

“I’ve had a wonderful life, wonderful. I always had a terrific life, I still have,” Tinggaard said. “For a guy at 103, I’m not doing too bad…Everybody’s so nice to me. But then, maybe it’s because I try to be nice to everybody. It pays off. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Heritage Center has been holding their weekly senior center dances for over 10 years, Gallagher said.

Previously, Summerhays played for weekly dances at the Sandy Senior Center, before they were moved to Murray.

“Exercise, the social part of it is important, meeting new friends, to have fun,” are all things Gallagher hopes the seniors who come to the dances get out of them. “We provide treats and door prizes, it’s a $5 entrance fee—Karl’s mad that we are still charging him,” she joked.