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Living to 56: A look at life in Stilwell, Oklahoma

Living to 56: A look at life in Stilwell, Oklahoma (KTUL)

Stilwell, Oklahoma may claim to be the strawberry capital of the world, but there’s another title that’s not on the welcome sign.

Stilwell has the lowest life expectancy in America.

RELATED | Stilwell residents react to lowest life expectancy rate in the U.S.

“People were like, oh my gosh,” said Lorie Trentham.

“It was a hot topic for at least a couple of weeks,” said her husband, Ronnie.

The two long time Stilwell residents have a visceral understanding of mortality. Ronnie is battling cancer for the seventh time.

“I’ve had complications on my throat and things. I am having some problems with eating,” said Ronnie.

In a town where the average life expectancy is just 56-years-old, Ronnie thinks about whether he can beat the odds.

“I thought cancer was the last thing in the world that would come against me again,” said Ronnie.

Stilwell is a poor town and many people struggle to get by.

“It says, diabetes need help with insulin,” said Albert Beck, pointing the sign he was holding on the side of the road.

On average, families make $24,000 a year here. Albert knows what that’s like.

“I try to make it, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t,” said Albert.

Hard work and sacrifice are nothing new here. A point made clear by the local cemetery, it marks the end of the trail of tears. Even with local challenges and widespread signs of poverty, not everyone believes the mortality study is true.

But sometimes, it comes down to simple math.

“When it’s put on paper, it really brings it to light,” said Brandy Girdner.

On the top of local deaths, Brandy is an expert. She’s the funeral director at Stilwell’s ‘Roberts Reed Culver Funeral Home.’ Brandy counted and realized, half of the funerals she handled in 2018 were for people in their 50s and 60s.

“It was an eye-opening experience when you have friends who are burying their spouses and they’re in their fifties,” said Brandy.

Markwayne Mullin is also concerned. Mullin isn’t just the local congressman here, but he grew up in the area and knows just about everyone. The congressman is backing bills aimed at easing the horrible poverty and health issues here.

“A lot of it has to do with lifestyle,” said Mullin. “We have a high addiction rate.”

Even with the bills and the study, Ronnie wonders how much can things really change?

“But here’s a population that wouldn’t have done anything. They just would have said, no I’m done,” said Lorie.

Ronnie’s got a battle ahead of him. But he’s got a lot to live for.

“I’m alive. I’m in good shape. I really am. I am a happy man,” said Ronnie. “I’ve got a great wife, great kids, super terrific grandbabies.”

For so many people here, even with the realities they face or the losses they’ve experienced, they share the one thing that keeps Ronnie and his family going

Hope.

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