You don't meet too many 105-year-old men, not to mention one who has a special place in his heart for Raquel Welch.
Fermin Montes Deoca, who turns 106 in December, once joked that when he passes he wants his ashes spread over a picture of Welch. Someone shared "Mr. D's" funny comment with the Hollywood legend, and she sent him an autographed picture.
That's just one of the light-hearted stories I took away from the Sun City Center 18th annual Centenarian Birthday Party last week. I had the pleasure of being the master of ceremonies along with SunTrust vice president Jeff Dunn.
We visited with the honored guests before the festivities began. They shared thoughts about their lives, loves and experiences.
Mostly, they inspired simply with their presence.
SunTrust Bank sponsored the event. Former SunTrust vice president Spencer Faircloth started the tradition with three centenarians in 1992. Now retired, Faircloth was on hand to see this year's honorees. Supervisor of Elections Phyllis Busansky joined the dignitaries, and the Sun City Slickers quartet provided entertainment.
Bank officials identified 28 centenarians in the area, and approximately half of them came for the celebration.
Here are a few recollections.
Deoca displayed uncanny recall, even giving the address of the West Tampa (711 Pine St.) home where he was born in 1903. As a teen, he worked in a local cigar factory but never smoked a cigar or cigarette.
"I was an embarrassment to the cigar industry," Deoca quipped.
Deoca eventually moved to New York, where he worked as a barber in the Waldorf-Astoria. He gave trims to a number of stars including Douglas Fairbanks, Al Jolson and Gary Cooper, who called him "Shorty."
John Donnelly, who turns 103 in September, hurried in from a cruise through the Panama Canal to make the party. I guess somebody forgot to tell the Iowa native he's supposed to slow down. The master table tennis player has won seven national championships and at 100, he appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Interestingly, both Donnelly and Deoca attribute their longevity to chewing their food well. Who knew?
When asked about being from New Jersey, Edna Beck corrected and explained she was from "Joisey." Beck, who turns 103 in September, attended with 97-year-old husband Richard John. I teased that 72 years ago, he married an older woman.
Julia Margaret Deane attended her first centenarian party after turning 100 in January. She finds joy in going to the gym every day to work out and do yoga.
Another first-time attendee was William Wilson, who turns 100 on April 5. William played semi-pro baseball as a young man in North Carolina. He conceded that while he wasn't a great fielder, his hitting kept him in the game. He loves horses and for years attended the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn.
Ever seen those guys who propose to their girlfriends at a big football or basketball game? Well, the trend may have started with a Scotsman named Lester who proposed to Louise Rich Fraser Hutt at the 1928 Syracuse-Columbia game. Louise, who turns 104 in July, says it was the happiest day of her life.
Lester passed away in 1968, but Louise chronicles that day and other events in an autobiography she actually had published.
After we read all the bios, Mr. D. serenaded the audience with a heartwarming rendition of Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World. He performed without accompaniment, didn't miss a beat and didn't flub a single lyric.
Folks began to tear up and, coincidentally, a little dust in the air made my eyes water.
When I first watched Back To The Future, I dreamed of finding a time machine and venturing back to the past.
Now I know such a trip could be made without a souped-up DeLorean and Doc Brown's "flex capacitor." All you need to do is spend some time with this impressive group or with one of your own elders. I do it every time I meet with my 107-year-old grandmother in Atlanta.
I may not rocket back to their heydays, but I do visit the simple, intrinsic values that have enhanced their lives.
It's a journey I could take again and again.
That's all I'm saying.