Celebrating Life at The Cliffs

‘Omi’ Aulenbacher embraces 110th birthday surrounded by friends, family and the beauty of the Carolina mountains

Maria Aulenbacher says she doesn’t have the secret to longevity. What this spunky 110-year-old DOES have, however, is a glass of beer or wine at lunch and dinner—and a strong grappa any time a cold is coming on — “so maybe that’s it,” she laughs.

Likely it’s her own cheerful spirits, too, buoyed by a heart filled with gratitude and a body amply blessed with good health. Called “Omi” by the people who love her, this resident at The Cliffs Valley is delighted to add her name to Gerontology Research Group’s list of supercentenarians, the official term for people who have reached the age of 110. 

“Oh yes,” Omi says. “I am so lucky and very happy!”

A native of Germany, Omi was born November 7, 1909—one year after Ford introduced his Model T, two decades before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. She celebrated her 100th birthday in the same room in which she was born, in a family home nestled in the Taunus Mountains. Last fall, Omi marked her milestone 110th with a champagne brunch at The Cliffs at Glassy. She shared the occasion with her granddaughter, Suzanne, who was born on the same date 55 years apart. They were surrounded by family, friends, neighbors, even a few international dignitaries … and the Carolina mountains that remind Omi so much of home.

Omi grew up in a small village near Frankfurt, Germany, the oldest of six children; their father was the Union Secretariat and their grandfather owned a slate mine, where most of the village men worked. She lived through two world wars, the second of which left her a young widow with two young children. 

The dark-haired beauty never remarried; after raising her son and daughter, she lived in Wiesbaden on the Rhine River, with siblings nearby, until her last remaining sister passed at age 97. That’s when Omi, then 101 years old, emigrated to the United States to live with her daughter and son-in-law, Birgit and Doug Dickerson, at their home in The Cliffs Valley.  

“We built this house with the intention of one day moving Omi here,” Doug says, noting it has a full mother-in-law suite downstairs although, because of mobility issues, Omi now occupies the master bedroom on the main level. “We wanted her to have a place to come when she didn’t want to live alone anymore … which, as it turns out, didn’t happen until she was 101.”

Planning ahead made for a smooth transition into a multi-generational household. That the Valley setting is so stunningly serene, so reminiscent of Omi’s beloved childhood village, helps as well.  

“I love it here,” Omi says. “I never get homesick. I see these mountains and it’s just like being back in Germany.”

The Dickersons agree. They moved here 18 years ago from Indiana—ostensibly to retire, “but I’m still working,” Doug laughs—having become enchanted with Upstate South Carolina whilst visiting their daughter Suzanne, who visited the Spartanburg BMW plant often during her employment with BMW Munich. 

“We drove past the entrance (to The Cliffs Valley) and I said ‘Stop the car! I want to live here!” Birgit recalls. “There wasn’t a clubhouse yet. There weren’t many houses; there was still a construction trailer … and there were these amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” 

Birgit and her mother both appreciate the Valley’s location—far enough removed from the city hustle, close enough to shop for German bread at Lidl. “This environment is so relaxing,” she says. “You can have a good, healthy life here, whether you’re ten or one hundred and ten!”

Indeed, The Cliffs lifestyle fosters wellness. “If you want to live long, come live at The Cliffs!” says Omi. 

As a supercentenarian, Omi remains as active as possible, taking walks at the Valley’s Nature Center and around the lake at Mountain Park, invigorating both body and soul with the fresh mountain air. She enjoys the occasional Cliffs social event, especially Oktoberfest.

After outliving her parents, her husband, five siblings and a son, along with too many friends to count, Omi cherishes her family that remains: her daughter and son-in-law, the Dickersons; granddaughters Suzanne and Christina; and great-grandson Alex, “her liebling,” the love of her life. 

Alex, 12, plays forward with CESA Soccer—“fussball,” as the German Omi calls it—and she doesn’t miss a match. Alex also has become an active golfer, playing on The Cliffs courses.

In addition to physical activity, Omi keeps her mind busy. An avid reader, she stays on top of Germany’s current events via YouTube and Hulu, so that she can send informed absentee ballots to hometown elections. 

“I’m opinionated,” she admits, explaining that having lived through a dictatorship under the Nazi regime, she now cherishes the right to express herself both out loud and in the voting booth. 

Satellite TV also allows her to virtually attend a German church service every Sunday, a weekly ritual supplemented by daily devotions on behalf of her loved ones. “I pray my family has health and happiness,” she says.

People always ask “what changes have you seen in your lifetime” but Omi points out that isn’t quite the right question. 

“Ask what hasn’t changed! Everything is different—music, travel, medicine, technology — everything has changed, except for people,” she says. “People haven’t changed. Human nature is still the same.”


This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.

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