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Howard's 'Older Americans' celebrate senior pride


At 96, Columbia resident Starks Kelly runs rings around his son Robert, 66, when it comes to recalling yesterday.

"He has a better memory than me," said Robert Kelly, laughing. "He can remember things I can't remember."

For instance, his father can recall his living legacies.

"I have five children, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren," he said, while his son struggled with the totals.

Kelly was honored Friday at the Florence Bain Senior Center during a celebration of Older Americans Day in the county. The day began Older Americans Month.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker attended the celebration and proclaimed Friday Older Americans Day in the county.

Four hundred seniors listened to the musical selections by The Goldenaires and The Sweet Adelines and lunched on a meal featuring chicken breasts with mushrooms and fruit tarts.

"Today we salute you," said Nell Boynton, the senior center's director. She thanked the seniors for their contributions to society.

There are 29,319 "Older Americans" -- people age 60 or up -- living in the county, according to the Howard Office On Aging, which sponsored the celebration.

While sitting at a table with his son, Starks Kelly, a white-haired man clad in a gray striped suit, was given a certificate of recognition for being the oldest, and an active member in the center's nutrition program.

"At 96, you can still say, 'I'm active and alert.' I think that deserves a hand," said Vivian Reid, the director of the Office on Aging.

The crowd applauded.

"It's a wonderful thing," Robert Kelly said of the salute to his father. "I hope I can follow in his footsteps."

In an interview, Starks Kelly said, "I've lived a wonderful life."

Born in Spartanburg, S.C., on April 15, 1896, Kelly was raised on a farm where his family grew their own food. They only bought sugar, coffee and soda, he said.

In 1927, he left South Carolina and moved to Washington seeking a better life. There, he found work unloading mail at Union Station and later driving a cab for 40 years. He later moved to Charles County. In 1979, he settled in Columbia.

For 13 years, he has lived in the Owen Brown senior residential center in Columbia.

"He does his own cooking, cleaning and washing," said Robert Kelly, a Washington resident who visits his father once a week.

Starks Kelly said aside from being diabetic, he's in good physical condition. However, he has trouble hearing and uses a cane. He said he loves watching baseball and football, and dancing.

"I love kissing the ladies," he said, blushing.

During the 10 decades Kelly has lived, he said he has seen the world change dramatically.

"Everything wasn't so high then," he said, remembering when sugar cost 5 cents a pound. "There wasn't a lot of robberies and drugs and dope."

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