SUN CITY CENTER
They came to celebrate lives spanning a century. There were 21 in all, men and women ages 99 to 106. One man, 101, drove himself.
They listened as speakers detailed their life stories. They ate birthday cupcakes and opened gifts.
Iola Turner, 101, chuckled as she reminisced about meeting her husband, raising her children and taking her first flight on an airplane.
Wearing a glittery party hat, Turner marveled at the way culture has evolved, sometimes in silly ways. She thinks it is folly, for instance, for couples to dance apart instead of together.
"You should dance with your boyfriend or lover," she said. "Really, so much has changed."
South Bay Hospital sponsored the Centenarian Birthday Party held Wednesday at the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce. The once-annual event, started in 1992, last took place in 2009.
This year, organizers hoped to break the world record for largest gathering of centenarians, but fell short. The current record, set Sept. 25, 2009, in the United Kingdom, is still 28.
Wednesday's honorees did not appear too disappointed. Surrounded by balloons, family and admirers, they smiled and waved to photographers. They told stories of world wars, careers as Vogue models and engineers, trips around the world and drinking dandelion wine. They made new friends.
Turner chatted with tablemate Edna Randell, 102. "What do you think about the party?" Turner asked.
"As you can see, I'm enjoying it," Randell said, licking green cupcake frosting from her fingers.
"I don't get to eat mine," Turner said, giggling. "My daughter said I had to take it home."
Turner, born July 4, 1911, lives with her 76-year-old daughter, Rosalie Kelleher, in Sun City Center. Turner knits, naps and takes accordion lessons. Her eyesight is failing and the only thing in her pocketbook is medicine, she said.
Still, she remembers her dancing years when she worked as a single 20-something secretary at a motor club.
Turner has a simple recipe for living long and well.
"Three meals a day, rest, friends and faith in God," she said, sipping fruit punch.
As guests approached the centenarians to ask questions, each presented a different outlook on life. Josephine Parsons, 102, a former painter, cracked jokes and smiled at the mention of Frank Sinatra. Donald Lyons, 106, stood proud when introduced as the oldest in the group. Lyons, who once worked for General Motors and owned a yacht, offered these words to young people when interviewed by party sponsors. "Go to work," he said.
John Blue, 101, walked out to his Buick Regal after the celebration. Yes, he still drives, he said. He also does his own taxes. A widower, he lives alone and calls himself a bachelor.
"Advice, I don't have any," Blue said. "I still drink and smoke."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.