WINTER GARDEN At the grand age of 105-and-one-half, Winter Garden resident Irene Johnston jokingly told her family what has brought her this far: Watching Lawrence Welk every Saturday night with a beer and pizza.
Johnston, along with three other women living at Health Central Park on North Dillard Street, were honored Sept. 22 on National Centenarian’s Day as official Winter Garden centenarians.
The day is meant to honor those who are 100 years of age or older and originally was proclaimed as a time to listen to centenarians’ wealth of knowledge and life experience.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 there were 53,364 Americans who reached age 100 or older — a 65.8% spike from the 32,194 centenarians in 1980. Additionally, it is mostly women who live to age 100. Census data shows that in 2010, 82.8% of centenarians were female.
The average age of the population is growing at an unprecedented rate, as scientific and medical advances enable people to live well into their 80s or 90s.
HONORING LONG, HEALTHY LIVES
At Health Central Park on National Centenarian’s Day, four residents were honored in a special ceremony at the facility by friends, family, staff and Winter Garden Mayor John Rees. Each woman honored had a table set up with her own individual cake — some filled with chocolate and some with pineapple, depending on their preferences.
The four centenarians range in age from 100 to 105 years old. Amanda Jones turned 100 this year; Serafina Sisto is 101; Helen Mills is 103; and Irene Johnston is 105-and-one-half.
Rees helped open the celebration with a series of proclamations, the first declaring the month of September as Healthy Aging Month in Winter Garden.
“Whereas I, John Rees, Mayor of the City of Winter Garden, do hereby proclaim the month of September as Healthy Aging Month in the City of Winter Garden and encourage all of our citizens as we observe this month as an opportunity to take a step — be it small or great — toward improving their own health habits so they can maintain their own independence and keep control of their own lives for as long as humanly possible,” the proclamation read.
Rees then honored each woman with a reading of her own, personalized centenarian proclamation. Each of these detailed the resident’s hometown, family life, favorite colors, foods, flowers and more as they were officially declared Winter Garden centenarians.
“I guess we’ve got to ask each of these what they did during their lives to do this,” Rees said, chuckling. “I just want to tell them all happy birthday, and it is fantastic that we have them here and looking good and doing well.”
THE SECRET TO LONGEVITY
One of Irene Johnston’s favorite drinks was evident as it was placed on her table before they cut her cake: champagne.
Johnston, who turned 105 in January, is originally from Chicago. When she reached 100, she moved to an assisted-living facility in Tavares until she fell one day at the age of 103. Since then, her daughter Paula Lienard — a Clermont resident — moved her to HCP to be closer to her.
“I feared the Lord, trusted in the Lord, since I was 12 years old. I was raised hard, I had a hard life. I always treated people right, and I never drank, smoked, chewed dip, none of that. I don’t have a recipe.” - Amanda Jones, 100
As an added quality of independence, Johnston was delivering Meals on Wheels until she was 100. Lienard had participated in the organization for many years, and she would drive while her mother delivered the meals.
“She lived by herself, did all of her cooking and cleaning until she was 100,” Lienard said. “When she turned 100, she said, ‘I’m tired of this cooking.’ That’s when she went into assisted living, and she lived there until she was 103 and fell.”
Fellow centenarian Amanda Jones, 100, grew up in Georgia, where she lived a tough life and helped her mother working in the fields. She always spent time with the older women in her life, who instilled their wisdom in her and taught her life skills such as cooking and sewing.
One of the most important life lessons she notes is simple: Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.
“If you treat people like you wish to be treated, and they don’t treat you right, you say, ‘Lord help them,’ and go home,” Jones said. “Don’t let that one person stop you from being good.”
But as her for secret to living to be 100, Jones said she doesn’t have one. She eats anything she wants, and even though people around her growing up drank a lot, she never did. Drinking always made her sick.
“I feared the Lord, trusted in the Lord, since I was 12 years old,” she said. “I was raised hard, I had a hard life. I always treated people right, and I never drank, smoked, chewed dip, none of that. I don’t have a recipe.”
But even though she doesn’t have a so-called secret, her faith is something that has always kept her going through rough times.
“I’ve had some good days, and I’ve had some bad days, but thank God for the good days,” Jones said. “He brought me this far, and I never would have thought I would live this long. All of my sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, they’re gone. This is all God.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].