109-Year-Old Spends His Days Knitting Sweaters for Penguins

Oliver Libaw
·Managing Editor
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(Photo: Penguin Foundation)

Alfred “Alfie” Date is 109 years old and he spends his days knitting sweaters for penguins. Actual, real-life little penguins who live off the coast of Australia and New Zealand.

It may sound crazy, but it’s the truth. Date, the oldest living man in Australia, has been an accomplished knitter for seven decades. He says he completed his first project, a sweater for his nephew, in about 1931.

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(Photo: Screengrab/9News.com.au)

Date had recently moved to an assisted living facility in New South Wales, when he got an unusual request from the staff.

“I think I’d been in here about 12 hours, might have been 13,” Date tells 9News.com.au. (Watch the video interview here.)

“The two [nurses] come in to me and say ‘We believe you can knit.’”

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(Photo: Penguin Foundation)

The nurses explained that the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation had put out a call for sweaters to help the animals.

Sweaters for penguins sound adorable, but seem farfetched. But in fact, they serve a practical purpose in rescuing the birds after oil spills.

“This is not a fashion statement!” the organization says on its website. “Knitted penguin jumpers play an important role in saving little penguins affected by oil pollution. A patch of oil the size of a thumb nail can kill a little penguin.”

After a spill in 2001, nearly all of the 438 affected penguins were saved.

Date took the request to heart.

“The girls who used to work for me, they’ll tell you I’m a sucker. I can’t say no,” Date says.

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(Photo: Penguin Foundation)

Response to the request has been tremendous, largely due to the attention from the press, and the penguin rescue group is now politely asking knitters to lay off.

“Please note that we have plenty of penguin jumpers at this time donated by generous knitters across the globe,”  the group says. They suggest donating cash to support their work instead. Similar calls for mittens for koalas with burnt paws and knitted pouches for orphaned kangaroos have also resulted in an overflow of crafty donations.

Apparently knitters can’t resist a call to help.

Date is not the first knitter of a certain age to take up the cause. Merle Davenport, a 96-year-old great-grandmother in Ferntree Gully, Australia, made headlines last year for her penguin sweaters.

“I’ve got to have something to do with my hands,” Davenport told the Knox Leader. She said each jumper (Australian for “sweater”) took her seven to eight hours to make.

Even if the sweaters aren’t immediately put to use, they are having a positive effect on the knitters themselves. The craft has been used as a therapy to boost mental health, it relieves stress, and it boosts brainpower. One study found that crafting lowers your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent and may lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

So keep it up, Alfie!