Seniors offer words of wisdom at annual luncheon for nonagenarians, centenarians


Maintain a positive outlook. Live well. And oh, yes, don’t die.

Those were some of the tips for living to be 100 offered by local seniors last week, when the St. Johns County Council on Aging hosted its annual luncheon for residents aged 90 and over. Held May 17 at THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, the event was attended by 40 local residents ranging in age from 90 to 103.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about aging, talking about aging and writing about aging,” Council on Aging Executive Director Becky Yanni told attendees. “And here you are in person, showing us what it is to live well and age well.”

In addition to entertainment by pianist Don Miniard, the luncheon featured the assistance of Landrum Middle School’s Impact Club, as students escorted honorees into the hall and then served them lunch.

“I think they all aspire to one day (attend) this luncheon,” said Council on Aging Board Member Bruce Barber, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies.

Barber noted that fellow board member Don Blackburn – with whom he worked to secure funding to build the Ponte Vedra senior center – was attending the luncheon as an honoree this year, having turned 90 the week before.

“I’m a freshman in this group,” Blackburn quipped. “And I plan on being around here for a quite a while to help keep things going.”

Also on hand for the luncheon were numerous representatives of local government, law enforcement and senior services organizations, including state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson – whom Barber credited with securing $1.3 million to help build the center – St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Robert Hardwick and guest speaker Bruce Jones, CEO of Vicar’s Landing. Yet the highlight of the event was the chance to hear honorees share their secrets for making it to 90 and beyond. And from the recommendations offered, it appeared a good sense of humor was an absolute must.

“When I had my last birthday, people asked me how I managed to live to be 100,” centenarian Bobby West said. “I told them it was because I haven’t died yet!”

Centenarian Neva Huxmann said the secret to reaching 100 was to “keep well and live a long time!” Ninety-seven-year-old World War II veteran Arne Nielsen’s advice came in the form of a boisterous drinking song, while James Jackson shared that traveling and having new experiences helped him reach the age of 101.

“I’ve been in every state in the union but one because I don’t swim,” Jackson said. “I went to Alaska and saw the biggest mosquitoes in my life. You think they’re big in Florida? In Alaska, they’re twice as big! You should go there if you get the chance.”

Leigh Cort attended the luncheon with her parents, Helen and Abe Shulman, who are 95 and 99, respectively. Their secret, she said? Togetherness.

“They’re still a couple and still look after one another,” said Cort, noting that her parents have been married for 78 years. “They don’t see themselves as old. Every day is a gift with them.”

Her father agreed. “We just thank God we’re here together and can keep going,” he said.

But the simplest suggestion for living to be 100 came from the oldest person present: 103-year-old Minna Barnes.

Her advice?

“Keep smiling,” she said.