Walking toward 104 years


Posted Tue, Apr 2, 2013


DOUBLE SHUFFLE: 103-years-young, Mickey Yetashawork treks around the lower level of the Cherry Creek Mall almost everyday. [Photo by Jen Sasser]

DENVER — Shuffling half a mile everyday around Cherry Creek Mall, Mickey Yetashawork, at the ripe age of 103, believes that “exercise should be done daily.” Yetashawork has walked the mall almost every day for 12 years.

Any given day of the week, Yetashawork can be found either singing, or quietly making his trek around the lower level of the Cherry Creek Mall. Merchants and shoppers look forward to seeing Yetashawork’s workout every day.

“Oh yes, the sweet little man who takes like a million steps!” says Popsey Heiferling who works at Cherry Creek. He has become part of the heartbeat of the mall, bringing his light and inspiration every single day he walks.

For the past 103 years, soon to be 104 in April, Yetashawork has lived an incredibly full life and has a lot of wisdom to share. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Yetashawork is a descendant of Haile Sellassie, the Emperor of Ethiopian and a defining figure in African history.

Yetashawork has done a great many things in his life including working on the railroad in Addis, becoming a musician of many instruments including the piano, violin, mandolin, guitar and tenor saxophone, and teaching himself to speak more than 10 different languages including French, Spanish, English, Italian and different African languages.

Yetashawork is currently teaching himself more languages, “To keep me busy,” he says. “When you keep busy, you have no time to worry.”

Yetashawork attended the only university in Addis Ababa at that time in the capital of Ethiopia, to become a pharmacist. When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Yetashwork taught himself Italian. He thought it would be beneficial to know what the “fuh-denchies” (or foreigners) in his country were saying. Yetashawork left Addis 35 years ago during the revolution in Ethiopia as a refugee. “It was the revolution, no? Everyone had to flee,” Yetashawork says.

“Now it (Ethiopia) is doing well, now,” he says. “For the last 20 years, you know? The government is doing well.”

Yetashawork still has family back in Ethiopia. Around 10 years ago he was able to visit his releatives in Addis Ababa, and after that they some visited him in Denver. After he first left Ethiopia, Yetashawork settled in France for three years, and with his fluency in French, he fit right in. Yetashawork work in France and enjoyed it greatly, but it was in Colorado, however, that he found his home.

Photo by Jen Sasser

TAKING A BREAK: It takes Yetashawork two hours every day to get a quarter of a mile taking very small step, but completing his goal nonetheless. [Photo by Jen Sasser]

Yetashawork’s three children lived Denver at the time when he fled Ethiopia. Yetashawork decided that Colorado was a place as good as any to call home. Of his three children, only his daughter remains in Colorado today with the other two living in San Francisco. Yetashawork is now a grandfather to five children whom he tries to see as often as possible.

Yetashawork’s philosophies on life are simple: keep moving, take care of yourself, keep busy and prepare for the life after this.

All of these things Yetashawork will tell you are the “most important thing(s)!” Yetashawork is an inspiring individual looking ahead and with his encouraging chant, “Just keep moving!” Yetashawork made a guest appearance in 1936 in the French historical book entitled L’empire d’ Éthiopie : le miroir de l’Éthiopie moderne, 1906-1935 written by Adrien Zervos. Since then he has been interviewed by multiple news organizations across the U.S. including Denver’s 9News.

Yetashawork has always been focused on health and keeping his body fit. When Yetashawork was younger, every Sunday he would walk and run 52 miles. It was only after heart surgery that he had to slow down. “The most important is to be regular,” Yetashawork says.

Cherry Creek Mall employee Jane Griebe says, “He had to have a stint put into his heart and that’s when he went down to walking 15 miles. And that was him slowing down!”

Healthy is not just a word in Yetashawork’s vocabulary, but a way of life. When he was younger, he was very active in sports including Judo, tennis and running.

“I am a sportsman,” Yetashawork says. “Because I was champion in my country for single and double. I was champion in tennis. I am a sportsman always, you know?”

It takes Yetashawork two hours every day to get a quarter of a mile taking very small step, but completing his goal nonetheless. He keeps a record log of every day he walks the mall and a consistent row of scribbled “.5” cascade down the page.

“He keeps to himself a lot because he is on a mission,” says mall employee, Shana Aroutiounian. “If someone comes up and talks to him, he welcomes the company. He comes here every day focused on his walking.”

Yetashawork worries about the younger generation and that they do not have the same amount of discipline that he grew up with.

“You have to take care of yourself, you know,” Yetashawork says. “Your diet, you know? Must be disciplined. When we have no discipline, we are useless. We must have disciple.”

Yetashawork belives that though there is discipline in the workplace, it does not always display itself in one’s personal life. “But in our entire life we must be disciplined.” “It is [a] pity, you know.”

Yetashawork eats once a day, he says to give his stomach a rest. The rest of his strength he says comes from God.

“You have to take care of yourself; the most important thing is prayer.” “One hundred years in this world but we are going into eternity. It has no end. It is our home. So that is the most important. We must prepare for that.”

For over 30 years Mickey played piano for his local church every Sunday, but after hitting 90, it was a little too much for him. “Now, no, because when I have 90-years-old, I have to, just to rest, you know?”

Yetashawork will be 104 on April 13. The mall has gotten into the habit of throwing him a little birthday celebrating because, after all, Yetashawork might be the most loyal patron at the Cherry Creek Mall with his almost perfect record of visiting every day for the past 12 years. He is also a much loved fixture in the mall, and any day without Yetashawork would be a day without heart in the mall.

About Jen Sasser

Jen Sasser is working towards a Photojournalism degree with a minor in African American Studies. She is deeply interested in African affairs, non-profits, and travel which is evident in her writing and photographs.

View all posts by Jen Sasser

3 Responses to “Walking toward 104 years”

  1. S.L. Alderton Says:

    He sounds like a really cool guy!


  2. Stephanie V. Coleman Says:

    What an interesting story! A very inspiring individual and lead great photo!


  3. Stephanie V. Coleman Says:

    *Great profile photo.


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