Celebrating 100+: Winter Garden honors three centenarians

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  • | 9:32 a.m. October 1, 2015
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN — There are three women currently living in Winter Garden who are just a few years short of being as old as the incorporated city itself.

Irene Johnston, Helen Mills and Adela Choquet come from different origins and backgrounds, but their lives have converged as centenarians.

September was National Older Americans Month, and at Health Central Park, there was a birthday party Sept. 22 for Johnston and Mills, in honor of National Centenarians Day.

“I can only imagine what they’ve seen in their lives,” said Judy Skilton, who helped organize the party. “They’ve lived for many years and seen things that many of us probably never will.”

When Johnston was 10 years old, her mother died, forcing her and her siblings to live at an orphanage. 

Despite the odds, Johnston graduated from high school. She married Paul Johnston, and they had three daughters. 

The Johnstons owned a restaurant, bakery and catering business. Their daughter, Paula Lienard, remembers customers from the restaurant sitting at the family’s table every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“My mother couldn’t stand anybody not having a place to go for the holidays,” Lienard said. “She’s a very giving person.”

Johnston loved to dance and was still dancing at age 100. 

When Mills was a child, she got up early every morning to get milk from a dairy across the street before walking about two miles to school. Before marrying Calvin Gray Mills and having two children, Helen Mills graduated from nursing school. She worked as a pediatric and clinical nurse for the rest of her career.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “As a child, that was what I wanted to be.”

Mills’ daughter, Laura “Lollie” Karney, died last year but had been well known in the community for her involvement at First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden.

There also was a birthday party at Golden Pond Assisted Living last week for Adela Choquet, who turned 100 on Saturday.

After the death of her first husband, Choquet, then a travel agent, immigrated to the United States to look for a new career. She became a real-estate agent and married Robert Choquet, a restaurateur. Adela had four children. Adela retired in her 1960s and then became a yoga instructor in The Villages. She continued teaching yoga until she was 97 and did not move to an assisted-living facility until she was 99. She is still quite active.

“She’s a very friendly person,” said her son, Alex Bottinelli. “She just enjoys her groups of friends.”

Looking back...

Jan. 7, 1911: Irene Johnston was born in Chicago, Illinois.

Sept. 9, 1913: Helen Mills was born in Aliceville, Alabama.

Sept. 26, 1915: Adela Choquet was born in Santiago, Chile. 

Dec. 5, 1933: Prohibition ended.

June 12, 1934: Irene Johnston married Paul Johnston. 

1938: Helen Mills graduated with a nursing degree.

Aug. 9, 1940: Helen Mills married Calvin Gray Mills.

1950s: Adela Choquet immigrated to the United States and married Robert Choquet.

July 20, 1969: Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Aug. 6, 1991: World Wide Web went live.

Jan. 7, 2015: Irene Johnston turned 104.

Sept. 9, 2015: Helen Mills turned 102.

Sept. 26, 2015: Adela Choquet turned 100. 


Here’s what the centenarians said were their secrets to long life:

Irene: Every Saturday, she had pizza and a beer and watched the Laurence Welk Show.

Helen: She always thanked God and asked him for help.

Adela: She stayed active and tried to enjoy every moment. 

Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].


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