By Michelle Caceres
The spacious meeting room at the Sun City Chamber of Commerce was festively decorated with balloons, plenty of cake and punch to go around and birthday celebrants donned party hats and tiaras to get in the spirit of the celebration; but this was no ordinary birthday party.
In attendance were men and women who have beaten the odds and reached or surpassed the age of 100 years.
South Bay Hospital in partnership with American Momentum Bank, Sun City Center Community Foundation and the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, hoping to find a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of centenarians.
The current centenarian record is 28, which occurred at a September 25, 2009, tea party in Leigh-on-Sea, England, organized by a member of Parliament.
With 21 centenarians in attendance, the party in Sun City did not beat the record, but family and friends enjoyed celebrating the lives and accomplishments of the guests of honor.
Centenarian Elsie A. Green, 101, rode a horse to school through a river, ate her bag lunch on the ground and returned home to perform farm work until sundown. She ran away from home at 13 to get married, but her mother found her and took her back home. Later in her life, while living in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, she married Dolly Parton’s father.
The oldest centenarian in attendance, 106-year-old Don Lyons, was born on June 16, 1906. He earned a degree in Electrical Engineering and, during the Great Depression, landed a job with GE as an inspector and code developer. During World War II he worked for GM on the B-29 super bomber.
Elizabeth Turner, 101, recalls many historic events with crisp clarity, such as World War I and II, the Great Depression, women’s suffrage, Amelia Earhart, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Civil Rights Movement.
Some remain active. John Blue, at 100 years young, is self-sufficient, doing his own taxes and even driving his own car. Mary Cruishanks reads two books a week. Theresa Donato still enjoys swimming and reading, especially Danielle Steele novels. Elizabeth Betty Moran enjoys swimming and golfing (she has had two hole-in-ones at Kings Point Nine-Hole League).
The group, whose combined life spans totals more than 3,000 years, also shared words of wisdom to the younger crowd. These gems included:
South Bay Hospital marketing director Natalia Diaz said the centenarian birthday celebration was the brainchild of Spencer Fairchild, a member of the hospital board, who started in the event in 1992.
“The event had not been held since 1999 and he came to us with the idea to continue the tradition,” said Diaz. “We realized we might have the possibility of breaking the world record so we hit the ground running to locate our local centenarians.”
Centenarians came from the Greater Southshore area, including Brandon, Ruskin and Sun City.
Jan Platt, former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County Commissioner, says she has attended every 100-year birthday party hosted by the hospital.
“It’s such a meaningful celebration,” she said.
The party guests of honor left the event with goodie bags overflowing with pretzels, chocolates and other gifts, but nothing they took home compares to the wisdom and life lessons they shared with those in attendance.
For info on South Bay Hospital, visit www.southbayhospital.com.