By Kevin Rector, firstname.lastname@example.org
7:17 PM EDT, October 9, 2011
When asked about Bill Stearns' personality at his 100th birthday party on Thursday, Oct. 6, in Towson, Margy Billmire, a longtime family friend, began to say that her "Uncle Bill" is "just so great…"
Then Stearns interjected.
"He's an ornery old bugger," he said of himself with a chuckle.
At 100 years old, Stearns, a beloved resident of Emeritus at Towson, is a spirited man.
At the party, held at Emeritus on North Charles Street by staff, friends and family of Stearns', Sally McCardell, the senior living center's life enrichment director, asked Stearns what he wanted to drink.
"A rum and coke," he said.
Usually he just has one of those on Friday afternoons, McCardell said, but the party was a special exception. A milestone, right?
"It's just like any other day," Stearns said, with another slight smile. "It's just that I've lived a long time."
Biggest changes to the area over the years?
"It's been a gradual thing," he said. "The whole thing has been gradual."
Stearns was born Oct. 6, 1911, and lived on a farm in Harford County near the Pennsylvania line until 1922, when his family moved to Baltimore.
He was drafted during World War II and served in the 63rd Infantry Division between 1941 and 1947. In Germany in 1945, his unit was attached to General George Patton's tank outfit when Patton was severely injured in a car accident and died soon after, he said.
"Some stupid GI," Stearns said of the man who caused the crash.
For a time, Stearns and his wife of 65 years, Irene, lived in Billmire's parents' home in Govans, where Billmire, now 72, and her seven siblings grew up calling the couple their uncle and aunt, she said.
It was there that Stearns and his wife, who never had children, kept a pet cardinal named Bumpy for 12 years.
"We had a lot of fun with that bird," he said.
"I was terrified of it," Billmire added.
Stearns' nephew, Ray Stearns, who grew up in Reisterstown, was also at the Emeritus party, along with his two sons, John and Chris. While Ray Stearns, 75, now lives in Northern Virginia, he's still the nearest family member to Towson, and has a close relationship with his uncle.
"He was always there, kind of my second dad," Ray Stearns said. "My dad passed away in '64, and Bill kind of stepped in."
Helping to ensure his uncle is well cared for, especially in the last 10 years, has made them even closer, he said.
"They take such good care of him here, I don't have much to do but write the checks and come visit him and take him out to lunch," he said.
The older Stearns' favorite restaurant is The Peppermill on York Road, specifically for their crab cakes and cream of crab soup.
Ray Stearns remembers his uncle being a "strict disciplinarian" in years past, and John Stearns remembers dinners at his great uncle's house being "prim and proper."
They both remember the older Stearns catching squirrels in cages at his longtime home on Dunkirk Road, to release the nuisances elsewhere.
But fellow Emeritus resident Josie Bruno, 91, said Stearns is "down to earth" and lots of fun now.
"He likes me because I'm down to earth, too," she said.
The staff at Emeritus, where Stearns has lived for 10 years, uniformly sang his praises.
"Everybody here loves him, he's a member of our family, and we're so glad to be celebrating his birthday with everyone here today," McCardell said at the party, which featured balloons, paper glasses that read "100" and two cakes.
"Everyone loves him and he loves everyone else," said Lena Williamson, a medication technician at Emeritus.