- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

ROLLA, Mo. (AP) — Five neighbors at a central Missouri retirement community who are all centenarians get asked all the time: “How did you live to be 100?”

If you want to live to 100 or more, this rare group of golden girls says the key is working hard at a job you love and taking care of your body while you’re at it.

Although an estimated 70,000 people in the country are at the century mark or beyond in age, it is unusual to find five 100-year-olds living in one place.

The average life span of Americans is about two or three years short of an 80th birthday party. And most people don’t want to cut out coffee, soda, alcohol, cigarettes and eat healthy.

“People tell me all the time, ‘I don’t want to live to be 100,’” said Mildred Leaver, who turned 100 in June.

Her four centenarian friends at the Rolla Presbyterian Manor retirement community agreed. They hear it, too: “Who wants to live to be 100?”

“I think that’s just sad. Aging is attitude, and I don’t feel old,” said Mrs. Leaver, a former educator who still drives her Buick around town.

For an idea of just how special this centenarian quintet is, look at Presbyterian Manor’s 16 other communities across the Midwest. Only four other residents of the more than 2,000 have lived 100 years or longer — and each lives in a separate retirement community.

It doesn’t take long to see that Mrs. Leaver and her neighbors Mildred Harris, Grace Wolfson, Gladys Stuart and Viola Semas have a lot more in common than their longevity and lifelong healthy habits. All are 100 except Mrs. Stuart, who is 101.

Although their sight and hearing aren’t what they used to be, the women have avoided illnesses that many elderly people are stricken with. It has been 50 years since Mrs. Leaver beat cancer for the first and only time.

The thread that connects these women is the decades of service to jobs each loved as a farmer, designer, school principal, bookkeeper and secretary. In the early years of their lives, gainfully employed women like them were just as rare as 100-year-olds are today.

Mrs. Wolfson said art and her 25-year career as an aerospace illustrator helped her live long and through the best times in her life.

The emigrant from Budapest, who turned 100 this summer, said she is still inspired artistically today. Her art hangs in the retirement community, where a party was held this month in honor of the five women.

Mrs. Harris said hard farm work and an abundance of fruits and vegetables in her back yard kept her going. She also is a big advocate against smoking.

“No tobacco. I watched my husband just cough and cough until it killed him,” Mrs. Harris said.

A long career in bookkeeping kept Mrs. Semas’ life as balanced at the money she managed. Mrs. Semas said she still loves numbers, especially winning ones on a bingo chart.

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