An amazing milestone

CLEARWATER

They came from different walks of life: teachers, soldiers, cooks, maintenance men and musicians.

But they all had at least one thing in common: They were 100 years old or beyond.

On Thursday, the 18 local centenarians celebrated their birthdays with family and friends at a party hosted by Suncoast Hospice at the agency's Community Service Center in Clearwater.

The 18 are among about 300 centenarians in Pinellas County.

At Thursday's event, more than 100 people gathered in a huge room decorated with red, yellow and blue balloons.

The guests of honor either walked in or were brought by wheelchair. Some wrote down their favorite memories or information about themselves. Some had their stories read on stage by WTSP-Ch. 10 TV personalities. And like every good party, there was music: Old favorites, and, of course, Happy Birthday.

There was cake for all, when the iced creation, which barely fit through the door on a rolling table, lit up the room with candlelight. Everyone in the room was asked to take a deep breath to help blow them out, but it didn't work.

To add a little levity to the occasion, the candles automatically relit each time they were blown out.

Deb Hagopian, regional program director of Suncoast Hospice, welcomed the centenarians and their guests.

"We are humbled and privileged to host your celebration today," she said.

Here's a closer look at some of the centenarians at the party:

Julienne Cannon, 100, of the Villas of Belleair, was born in France in 1910, where she worked and performed as a singer and a dancer. She sang a rendition of Let Me Call You Sweetheart on arrival to the party. Her father was a fisherman and she says she still loves seafood and beer.

Joe Ashcraft, 102, of Clearwater was at the party with Hazel, his wife of 66 years. They have two children and first met at a USO gathering in Washington, D.C. He was born in Clarksville, W.Va., and served more than 22 years in the Army. He retired as a master sergeant. His fondest memory is of the day he met his wife.

Margaret Olivia King, 100, of St. Petersburg was born in Georgia. An only child and the captain of her basketball team in school, she later became a schoolteacher. She moved to St. Petersburg in 1939, has two daughters and was a single mother. She loves to read and doesn't drink or smoke — never has.

Gussie Shelby, 100, of St. Petersburg lives by herself and takes care of the house and the yard. She raised five boys as a single mother and worked outside the home as a cook and housekeeper. Two years ago, she lost her boyfriend, who was 20 years her junior.

Mary Chapman, 101, of Clearwater was born in New York City. Her favorite memory? Working as a bullet inspector during World War II in Connecticut. She had to check each bullet to be sure it was filled with gun powder. After a year, she became foreman. She now lives at Palm Garden of Clearwater.

Mary Crate, 101, of Clearwater, owned a beauty parlor in New Jersey and worked with her sister Ann. She attributes her long life to hard work. Her favorite memory is of a road trip from New Jersey to California. She and her sister live together at Palm Garden of Clearwater.

Lucille Markley, 102, of Clearwater was born in Belleville, Pa. She was a school teacher and attributes her longevity to living a good life and believing in Jesus. She has two children.

Bob Bell, 100, of Largo worked for 25 years as head of maintenance for Pennsylvania Rubber Co. He drove a car for 85 years and only had one accident, which wasn't his fault. His favorite memories are of his wife, Mae. They met roller skating and were married for 77 years.

Helen Thomson, 104, was born in Canton, Ill. She has four children. Her fondest memories are of her old American Flyer sled and her cat named Old Blue. She worked as a bookkeeper for Singer Sewing Machine. She was surprised when two of her children, who live out of state, arrived at the party.

An amazing milestone 05/06/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 10:39am]

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