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Celebrating five centenarians

For five residents of The Oaks of Clearwater Tuesday was a day of celebration _ the facility gave a party to celebrate each one's century or more of life.

There as the youngest of the Century Club was Pat Degering and Gertrude Monroe, who are merely 100.

Joining them in the celebration were the real old timers, super centenarians Frances Peterman and Eva Ross, each 102, and Lena Mae Jackson, who clocks in at a lively 106 good years.

Lena Mae Jackson is a real Florida Cracker. She has lived much of her life right here on the west coast of Florida, except for a few teen years spent in Alabama and a few years in Washington D.C.

She was born in Tampa on Oct. 25, 1897. Her parents were Margaret and Martin Rich. Her father was a logging contractor. On Christmas day of her 14th year, her mother died and she and a 2-year-old sister went to live with an aunt and uncle in Alabama.

She returned to her native state at 17 when she married James William Jackson and the couple moved from Alabama to Dade City.

She calls herself "an early female entrepreneur." In the 1930s, Mrs. Jackson opened a beauty salon. She also owned and operated the Jolly Ginger Snap Tea Room and the couple owned and operated the City Market. All were in Tarpon Springs.

During World War II, the Jacksons moved to Washington, D.C., where she rented three row houses across from the Capitol which she sublet to boarders. Known as a good cook, she always had a full table as she fed the 48 tenants breakfast and dinner at her boarding houses every day.

The Jacksons raised a son, J.W. Jr., and a daughter, Shirley Lane, both of whom still live in Florida. She has numerous grandchildren including Clearwater dentist J.W. Jackson III and many great grandchildren.

In 1950, the couple returned to Florida. They came to St. Petersburg where she worked as the manager of the candy department at the William Henry store. Mr. Jackson died in 1955.

In 1968, Mrs. Jackson moved into Top of the World. She maintained her own apartment there until she reached the age of 103 and moved into The Oaks.

Some of Mrs. Jackson's favorite memories involve trips, particularly a train tour with American Express Travel that went from Chicago to Los Angeles and up the West Coast to Lake Louise in Canada. Another is the fun she had attending a square dance convention in Orlando and the many years she enjoyed square dancing at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg.

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Mrs. Jackson loves to talk about the many changes she has seen and often voices concern about how lifestyles are changing.

She remembers a simpler time, "In the '20s and '30s, we had so much fun going on picnics and swimming. There would be quilting parties, corn-shucking and other gatherings," she said, "with everyone working together."

"Nowadays people are very busy," she laments. "Lifestyles are so different from one another that it is hard to get together."

But her personal outlook is positive, "I don't labor under things disagreeable. I need to bring comfort and ease to my mind," she said of her secret to long life. Most of all, Mrs. Jackson has relied on her faith in God as her creator and in Jesus Christ as her savior to let her live a good and long life.

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Eva Ross was born March 19, 1901 in New Brunswick, but she grew up in Boston. She worked as an interior decorator and was an active volunteer for many years for the American Red Cross. She was married 48 years. She has a daughter, Audrey, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

In 1956, she retired to Clearwater. She likes to walk and for many years enjoyed creating needlepoint.

"I look forward to the future," she said. Her motto is "Enjoy life!" She attributes her longevity to a little sip of wine or a martini each evening.

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Frances Peterman was born Feb. 9, 1901, in New York City, the daughter of Rachel Leah and Phillip Levine, immigrants from Latvia. Her father was a sheet metal worker.

In 1942 she married Paul G. Peterman a real estate appraiser from New Jersey. She was a millinery designer's assistant. They retired and moved here in 1967, and lived in Bay Aristocrat Mobile Home Park in Clearwater

They were married 44 years when Mr. Peterman died in 1986. She later moved to Park Place Assisted Living Facility and in August she moved to The Oaks.

She has two two stepdaughters, Louise Smith of Clearwater, and Gloria LaRue of Woodland Hills, Calif., six step-grandchildren and six step-great-grandchildren. Mrs. Peterman was a 2,500 plus hour volunteer in the sewing room at Morton Plant Hospital.

Her favorite thing to do is the newspaper word puzzle Jumbles and she likes to play Scrabble. She enjoys watching baseball and golf on television.

Mrs. Peterman maintains a simple but important philosophy: "Live life in moderation!"

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Gertrude Monroe was born April 10, 1903 to Elizabeth and William Epperson in Brookston, Minn.

Her mother died when she was 4. After that she was moved around from aunt to aunt and finally ended up in Detroit. She met her husband, Clyde Monroe, in 1923 while both were in college. Both were elementary school teachers until they retired and moved here. They were married 70 years when he died in 1993.

Mrs. Monroe fondly remembers her years of teaching.

"I just loved the kids. When you love them, they love you. It's simple: If you like others, they and you can do a lot of good in this world," she said.

Always a reader, she still averages two books a week.

"You're never lonely if you like to read," she said.

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Pat Degering was born on Oct. 30, 1903 in Atlanta Ga. She likes to say she was a tomboy and tells folks how when she was growing up her mother threatened to put black bloomers on her, because white ones never stayed clean.

Later she moved to New Orleans, where she worked in clothing business for 15 years until she married. She was married for more than 50 years and had one daughter, Patricia.

A dedicated volunteer, Mrs. Degering worked for the Ladies of Madonna, the Red Cross, and was a "yellow lady" switchboard operator at a hospital, but her favorite thing to do was to visit orphanages to tell the children stories.

For years, Mrs. Degering would vacation in Florida to visit friends and relatives. Eventually her brother encouraged her to move down. In 1989, she moved into The Oaks, where she has many friends and is known for her soft southern accent. She says that she enjoys the social events, playing canasta and particularly poker night.

Mrs. Degering attributes her longevity to simply: "Taking one day at a time!"