Reaching 100: Life's not too shabby, and you get lunch


The names of the two people shown in the photographs that accompanied an article on Marylanders more than 100 years old were misspelled in yesterday's editions. In the picture on Page 1A, the correct name is Ida Schaffner. In the picture on Page 20A, the correct name is Tekla "Tillie" E. Krogman.

) The Sun regrets the error

You were expecting a sea of crocheted afghans, perhaps? Or a thicket of walkers? Soothing music? Hushed voices?

Forget it. Over there, Clarence Powell, 100 years old last October, was singing in his energetic tenor for the television cameras. Over here, Eva Williams, who turned 103 on New Year's Day, was discussing her mile walk to her East Baltimore church each Sunday. And Beatrice Randolph, 56, was praising her husband, soon to be 100, who helps her tend her ailing mother.

Eighty Marylanders who have reached 100 years or more came to the Sheraton Inner Harbor yesterday for the first Maryland Centenarians Recognition Luncheon. With their families and friends, the group numbered 600, filling the hotel ballroom.

The oldest honoree, the one who received the biggest ovation, was Mamie Evans, who state officials believe will be 121 on July 2.

If that age could be proven -- and it apparently cannot -- it would make Ms. Evans the oldest person in the world, by the standards of the "Guinness Book of World Records." The book currently credits a 118-year-old woman in France with that distinction.

Odessa D. Dorkins, the Morgan State University graduate student who dreamed up yesterday's event, said her research could find no one in the country older. "I would like to think that Ms. Mamie Evans is the oldest living person in the United States," she wrote in the luncheon program book.

The 80 honorees are only a fraction of the centenarians in Maryland, Ms. Dorkins said, noting that the Social Security Administration lists about 750 Marylanders of 100 or more.

These are people whose childhood was marked by the Spanish-American War, who fought in World War I, who were retired before John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Not every centenarian at the luncheon was as spry as Mr. Powell or Mrs. Williams. But the quality of life for the elderly is improving, researchers say.

The growing numbers of centenarians is a worldwide phenomenon, said Pearl German, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1990, there were 36,000 people in the United States who were verified 100 or older, Dr. German said. "I think that's astounding." In 1985, the number was only about 25,000.

Four out of five centenarians are women. If you were born in 1980, Dr. German said, you have a 1 in 87 chance of living to 100. If you were born 100 years ago, the odds were only 1 in 400.

Today's elderly will live longer as well. A 65-year-old today can expect to live 16.9 more years, Dr. German said. In 1900, Americans who were 65 had an average 11.5 years left to live.

Thomas LaVeist, an assistant professor in the Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "The primary reason people are living longer is because of improvements in hygiene and disease control, particularly infectious diseases. People aren't dying of infections anymore."

Ms. Dorkins, 51, a gerontology student, said the centenarians are important not just because they've reached a milestone. "These people were able to overcome obstacles," she said. "They give us hope. And that's what we're all living on today."

Mr. Powell, who used to sing his tenor solos as he taught music in Baltimore schools, is living on raw vegetables. A vegetarian for 70 years, Mr. Powell indulges in "no chicken, no beef, no liquor."

He rakes leaves, shovels snow, boards a city bus most days for solo jaunts downtown. "I don't like him doing it, but he does it," said his daughter, Clara Hardy, 75, with whom Mr. Powell lives.

He gave up driving only a few years ago. "I had him on the back of my motorcycle about five years ago," said a grandson, Glenford Hardy, 50.

"My favorite person is God, and that's that," Mr. Powell said.

So, does religion have something to do with reaching 100?

On the other side of the ballroom, Elder Howard Lewis, 102, laughed.

"My first wife's father was 99 when I married her, and he never said a prayer in his life," he said.

Born in Norfolk, Mr. Lewis moved to Salisbury in 1920 to farm. He began his work in the Church of God in Christ when he was 14 and is still a regular churchgoer. He's outlived two wives and lives in an apartment in Salisbury with the help of a care giver.

Some people are afraid of living to such an old age. "Oh, if they live right, there's nothing to be afraid of," Mr. Lewis said.

Mrs. Williams, dressed in her red suit, white hat and pearls, agreed. "I just kept on living. I hope I live to see some more."

Widowed for 23 years, without surviving children, Mrs. Williams lives alone, cooks for herself, does her own laundry and laughs indulgently at questions about how she's able to care for herself. Her worst medical problem? "A headache, sometime. But that doesn't mean anything."

Mr. Randolph, who helps care for his wife's mother, said his worst problem is poor hearing. A Ph.D. from Columbia University, he taught math and science in city schools. His first wife died after 42 years of marriage. Two years later, he married Beatrice, to whom he's been married 30 years.

"During the blizzard" in March, Mrs. Randolph said, "when we got stuck, he pushed my car half up the block. Before I could

stop him, he was out of the car. Scared me to death."

Is there anything he doesn't like about being 100? Mr. Randolph laughed. "No," he said. "I'm staying for 200."

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