With the number of centenarians at less than 1 percent of the American population, it is rare to attend a party for an individual celebrating 100 years of age or more.
Never mind five of them.
But that’s exactly what occurred last month, when the Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates in Peabody honored five assisted-living residents in its so-called Century Club: Thelma Taylor, 100; Marty Lawson, 101; Leo Ditchek, 101; Kay Morrocco, 101; and Rose Regis, 107.
According to Ellen Gordon, Kaplan’s director of resident life, it was the largest celebration of centenarian residents to date at the assisted living community operated by nonprofit Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. She said the five individuals, who participate in daily recreational and social activities, are proof that the aging process can be one of grace, dignity, and humor.
“Each one of them has something to teach us,” she said. “They’re wonderful.”
At the party, the guests of honor were seated at a circular table in the center of the room, surrounded by approximately 35 of their fellow residents and staff members. Each honoree wore a special pin and either a tiara or bow tie because, as Gordon said, “You are always ladies and gentlemen.”
As guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and birthday cake, Gordon paid tribute to each honoree: Taylor for staying socially engaged and exercising daily; Lawson for appreciating every generation, including the children with whom he volunteered at the onsite preschool before the pandemic; Ditchek for keeping up with current events while maintaining his trademark sense of humor; Morrocco for giving back through volunteering; and Regis for living on her own terms.
Gordon then led a toast of champagne and sparkling apple cider. As the roomful of neighbors, friends, and caregivers raised their glasses, she said, “God bless you, and let all of us in this room take lessons from the five of them on how to live our lives well. To you!”
In between congratulations from well-wishers, Ditchek said he was as surprised as anyone when he turned 101 on Feb 28. A native New Yorker and World War II veteran, he moved to Kaplan Estates several years ago to be closer to family in Ipswich.
“I had been living on my own and not eating that well,” said Ditchek, who has enthusiastically maintained his CNN viewing habit at the assisted living facility. “All the food here is very good.”
In fact, Ditchek said he was particularly pleased to be celebrating alongside Lawson, with whom he eats all three meals.
“Marty is a good man,” Ditchek said. “I’m honored to be next to him.”
“And I’m honored to be here with him,’' said Lawson, a retired businessman who turned 101 on Nov. 9. “I never dreamed I’d be 100. I thought 75 would be my limit. I think it’s very appropriate to bring attention to people who have reached 100 years and more. And I appreciate it.”
Taylor, who became a centenarian on March 10, worked in retail and office administration until she was 85. At Kaplan Estates, she enjoys all the daily activities, including arts and crafts, current events, and exercise classes.
“I’m lucky. It’s nice to be with people and keep busy — especially at this age,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to get together and see so many of us still active,” added Morrocco, a retired bookkeeper and avid ballroom dancer turned card shark who celebrated her 101st birthday on Aug. 10. The previous year, her friends from the Peabody Senior Center, where she volunteered for nearly 30 years, arrived in a van adorned with Morrocco’s picture to celebrate with her at Kaplan Estates.
Asked for her secret to longevity, Morrocco replied, “Good Italian genes!”
“You can either do something or sit around. I’d rather have a duty,” she added, joking that as a child, 100 years old “sounded like 1,000. And now I am that old. Older, actually!”
Pianist Bill Sokolow of Marblehead concluded the party with a rendition of “Young at Heart,” after which he drew laughs and cheers for congratulating Regis on surpassing the age in the song lyric “And if you should survive to a 105/Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive.”
“You beat the song by two years!” he told a smiling Regis.
As the honorees accepted balloons and plants to bring back to their apartments, Morrocco took a last look around.
“The party was amazing,” she said. “I’m very grateful that I’ve been given this time to enjoy.”
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.