There is no secret to living a long life. Ask Sadie Snyder of Chestnut Hill. She’s 105.
“I’m bewildered to think I’m living this long,” Snyder said. “I never expected it.”
When the Brookline Senior Center invited her to its “Party of a Century,” held Wednesday afternoon, her first question was, “How many people can I invite?” Born in East Boston in 1909, Snyder raised some of her siblings and two nieces as a teenager after their parents died. No time for hobbies, her life focused on taking care of the young ones. She got married for the first time at 60, spending over 30 years with her husband.
Living into the triple-digits is about more than genetics and family history, said Ruthann Dobek, director at the senior center.
“I call it resilience,” Dobek said. “I call it wisdom. I call it grit and determination ... all of those things we know that make for a good life.”
Snyder’s family had their own opinions. Each one has a Sadie story. At the party, a veritable bouquet of relatives surrounded her table.
“She’s stubborn,” one said, laughing. “It was her way or the highway.”
“She always kept kosher,” quipped another. “She was accepting.”
“She walked for miles,” observed a third. “She still plays mahjong twice a week.”
The centenarians ran the show at this shindig. They danced and sang and celebrated 100 years with cake, watermelon, Pellegrino, and loved ones. Over a dozen centenarians attended from Brookline and beyond. Each gave insights into his or her path to longevity.
“Laughing at myself,” said Max Siegel of Brookline with a grin. Or perhaps reciting poetry? The 103-year-old, in red suspenders and a blue ballcap, launched into a steady rendition of “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.
“I am the master of my fate,/ I am the captain of my soul,” he recited.
Or maybe it’s the singing. A member of the chorus, Siegel happily agreed to perform “Autumn Leaves” for the audience of more than 50.
“When you sing, you don’t cry,” he said.
In the heat of the day, LeRoy Neuberg ambled a few blocks to the party and arrived early. The 100-year-old was lectured, until someone mentioned he’d trudged to the center last winter through the snow. He’d always walked as a young man in Chicago.
To Neuberg, what’s important in life is keeping others in mind.
“Every person on earth,” he said, “should know they’re responsible for the well-being of each and every other person on earth. They have a duty to make sure each and every other person gets a shot at the good life ... the sooner everyone knows that, the better.”
Reading an excerpt from her memoir, 103-year-old Elinor “Fuzzy” Downs talked about using an iPad for the first time, Googling her name, and watching her then-3-year-old great granddaughter, Maya, navigate the screen while looking for a Peter Rabbit e-book.
Through writing lessons at the senior center, Downs recorded memories for her family.
“It’s addictive,” Downs said. “It’s a chance to discover yourself.”
She’s amazed at her age. Looking back over more than 100 years, she passed on a few lessons.
“Give back,” Downs said. “Give up. Let go as you go about your life.”
So perhaps there are tips to a long, healthy life. Even from the centenarians who couldn’t make it to the party. At the “Party of a Century” in 2007, one 101-year-old women was still working as a legal secretary downtown. She sent her unemployed neighbor to attend as her proxy. This year, another centenarian did not want her age acknowledged. Age is, after all, nothing but a number.
“You’re not asking, and she’s not telling,” Dobek said, laughing.
At 101, Ethel Weiss still works at Irving’s Toy & Card Shop on Harvard Street as she has since the 1930s. And as Anne Stone, 99, of Brookline, comes up on her 100th birthday this year, she said the meaning of life is about keeping busy.
“Be active,” she said. “Be with people. Enjoy life.”
When Dr. Thomas Perls began The New England Centenarian Study in 1995 there was one centenarian per 10,000 people in the population. Now he said it’s one centenarian per 5,000. By 2060, there could be a couple of million centenarians from the baby boom generation. The professor never tires of hearing about how to have a fulfilling life from someone who has lived 100 years or more.
“People say all kinds of great things,” said Perls, principal investigator of the study at Boston University School of Medicine and geriatrician at Boston Medical Center. “A little shot of whiskey everyday, their faith in God, or never getting married. Some think [they’re still alive] because they make people laugh and make other people’s lives so pleasant.”