Within 10 years, and for the first time in human history, the old will outnumber the young. Soon there will be more people 65 and older in the world than there are children under 5. Locally, we are already there. ˜ The "oldest old," people 80 and older, are the fastest growing portion of the world's population. Their ranks are projected to increase more than 230 percent by 2040. ˜ According to the Census Bureau's 2008 population estimates, Pinellas has more than four times as many old as young; Hillsborough has nearly twice as many. ˜ But what does all that mean? The alarm has sounded over pensions, Social Security and dependency ratios, not to mention pressures on young families. But it is also a milestone in human evolution. We are eating better, we have more wealth, and we can access better medicine, education and social services than at any other time in human history. And what is the point of all these advances, if not to enjoy them as long as we can?
Gussie Shelby sums up her life, 100 years and 3 months, from her Bible. Psalm 90, verse 4.
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.
She remembers her hundred years like one long summer day.
An airplane flies overhead, on final approach to Albert Whitted. She closes her eyes and talks about the first time she saw an airplane, in 1916. She ran under it to catch it if it fell.
"Now I get tired of hearing them all day long. Coming, going, coming, going."
She moved to south St. Petersburg in 1918, a skinny 9-year-old black girl.
"When I was a little girl you didn't go past 15th going south . . . because white people lived all further back there." She pauses and thinks a thought that makes her eyes harden. "And if you wanted water they had a place for the black people to drink water and a place for the white people to drink water. Don't care how you spent money there, you couldn't drink water from the white place."
It seems like such a short time ago, like a day that has just gone by. Now there's a black man in the White House.
"I never did think that would happen," she says. "You know where that came from?"
She points toward heaven.
"That came from God. That didn't come from people. God put that into people. God did that."
Raymond Fowler was married for 65 years to a woman who never uttered a curse word in her life. When she passed away in 2006, he began wearing a suit and tie every day. The ladies took notice. And he noticed that they noticed.
Now he has a cell phone, with a plastic Playboy cover, full of numbers for "lady dance partners" and "friends." But the real (newest) love of his life is Sharon Fullmer, a 60-year-old aspiring model. She was working at Marks & Morgan Jewelers the day a year and a half ago when Fowler came in to buy a handful of pendants for his lady friends.
That weekend, he had 30 tickets to see the Harry James Orchestra. Would she like to join the party? She would. And during the night they found themselves dancing cheek to cheek.
"My God, that really sends me," he told her.
"Where does it send you?" she whispered.
"She hasn't been out of my mind or my heart for a moment since."
As far as anyone can tell, Yetti Sterensis cannot remember the day in 1940 that her parents sent her out of Poland with forged papers so she could survive as a Christian in a world that was killing Jews.
She does not remember marrying her husband in a German camp, or arriving in New York. Nothing remains of the day that her husband suddenly died, leaving her a 48-year-old widow with two children. Alzheimer's has erased all the jobs she worked to raise them alone, along with the memory of how she filled the emptiness in her home when they grew up.
The life she keeps alive happened in the years between her arrival in America and the birth of her first child. She was a rising opera star off-Broadway. On happy days, the little piece of life that was truly her own echoes down the halls of the assisted living facility where she lives. Perfect Italian opera in a classically trained voice that still sings strong.
Her experiences during the Holocaust are preserved in the Florida Holocaust Museum. Her children remember her life of sacrifice as a mother. But only she remembers the names of the operas that made her a star.
There is an art to being the man in your corner, and there may not be a living man who knows that art better than Angelo Dundee.
As a 23-year-old, he remembers holding on tight in a C-47 flying low and fast over U.S. troops in Bastogne, France, pushing lifesaving supplies out the door to soldiers holding battle lines against the Germans.
As a 53-year-old, in the sixth round of the Rumble in the Jungle, he yelled, "Don't play with that sucker," to Muhammad Ali. And just that quick Ali covered up, tiring a young George Foreman out by letting him throw ineffective punches.
As a 60-year-old, he scolded Sugar Ray Leonard, "You're blowing it now, son! You're blowing it!" after the 12th round against Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns. His words are still famous today. Leonard pummeled Hearns in the 13th.
Wars cannot be won, and champions cannot be made, without men like Dundee. Ask any of the 16 world boxing champions who have had his voice in their head in the teetering moments between making history and being lost to it.
"Where is Angelo?" Dundee says now. "Always in the background, in the shadows, until he is exactly where you need him, exactly when you need him."
Fay Piquet is on a first-name basis with Henry Ford.
As in, "Henry would make you a car in any color, as long as it was black." Or, "I get 20 miles to the gallon in Henry's car."
He has earned the right. He has spent thousands of hours communing with Henry, channeling his spirit as he lovingly hand-sands fenders, smooths dents, matches paint. Over the years he has resurrected one Lazarus after another in Henry's honor.
His prize possessions are a 1926 Model T and a 1931 Model A Ford coupe.
He has never, would never, buy a car that was not made in America.
His last new car purchase was a 1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser. He traded in a big Chrysler for a car that would get better mileage. He sold the Miser when he learned it had a Volkswagen engine and was assembled in Canada.
Since then he has kept the age of American automaker dominance alive, one rusty piece at a time.
"I don't drink or smoke or gamble. I just like to make old American cars look pretty."
Sun City Center
When Tyler Sturdevant was 70, his grandchildren challenged him to a race during a family picnic. They ranged in age from 4 to 15. He beat them all.
"I figured if I could beat them, I could beat someone my own age," he says. Over the next 10 years he won scores of gold medals from the Senior Games and became a nationally ranked sprinter.
When he turned 80, he decided to try competitive swimming. So he typed "swim butterfly" into Google and carefully read how to do the stroke. He looked up the time he would have to beat to win a gold and headed to the pool. On his first try he beat it by 2 seconds and has been a top competitor ever since. "I guess when I turn 90 I'll start doing triathlons," he says.
Lucille Markley˜101 Clearwater
As a young girl Lucille Markley spent Sunday mornings on the women's side of a deeply traditional Mennonite church, in traditional long, plain dress.
Now Sunday morning starts in a bar full of former thieves, drug dealers, drug addicts, murderers and Hell's Angels. To celebrate her recent 101st birthday, her "Saloonatic" friends took her on a Harley ride to a Chinese buffet.
The ingredients for a rich Sunday morning for Markley have long been a good band and good people. The mix began in 1918 with a C melody saxophone and a young girl's love of music. Her grandfather, a Conservative Mennonite minister, saw how much she loved music and gave her permission to join the Reformed Mennonite Church, which was allowed to have a little band.
The Salvation Saloon features the Posse, a Southern rocking worship band to beat all worship bands. It features two paroled lifers on guitar and harmonica, and plays to a room full of good, saved Christians. Lucille loves the Posse, and the Posse loves Lucille.
"Jesus said it doesn't matter if you've been forgiven for a short time or a long time," she says. "Forgiveness is forgiveness."