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A birthday party, 100 years in the making

Maybe William Anderson simply has good genes. His father, a harness maker from Ireland, lived until he was 99{.

Anderson, 102, has a different theory. He credits his long life to eating fresh fish and daily drinks of cheap whiskey.

Regardless of how he and the other local centenarians managed to live that long, Hernando County officials have decided their longevity calls for a celebration.

"People are living longer," director of health and human services Jean Rags said, adding, "we continue seeing more people who are active, older adults."

Centenarians, a rapidly growing group in the county and throughout the nation, were honored Tuesday afternoon at the second annual centenarian birthday party hosted by the Hernando County Commission and SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast.

Ten of Hernando's centenarians _ with a combined total of 1,016 years of life experiences _ were honored, but two missed the party because of the flu.

The party, at SunTrust's Jefferson Street office in Brooksville, was modeled after an event that SunTrust's Sun City Center bank has held for more than 10 years.

"At this point, those are the only two that I know of," said Maureen Craugh, the bank's marketing officer. "I would think that the trend is going to continue, though."

Chances are good. The 2000 census counted more than 50,000 centenarians. But some demographers believe the number is far higher. About 3,500 live in Florida, according to the 2000 census.

This fast-growing segment of the population is leading to increasing numbers of group centenarian parties throughout the country.

"Not only has the centenarian population increased, but their health has improved," said Lynn Peters Adler, founder and director of the National Centenarian Awareness Project.

Adler thinks that centenarian parties are also helping to "dispel the stereotype of aging." She said that when she got involved in centenarian issues in 1985, most younger people assumed people in the 100-plus crowd were immobile and suffering from dementia.

"Over the years, I have seen the health and mental health of centenarians improve," Adler said.

Those improvements have led to an image change, as well as more active centenarians.

For example, 100-year-old Beryle Read of Brooksville said he still enjoys attending weekly church services, reading and helping his wife cook.

"Well, some," his wife, Miriam, said. "He does the dishes."

Filomena Cerra, a 100-year-old Italian immigrant, plays bingo, while Georgia Tompkins is known among her friends as a champion domino player and a good gambler.

"I won, but I went right around and spent it," Tompkins, 100, said of a recent Cape Canaveral gambling trip.

"She usually wins," her friend Ginger Rice said. "And she flirts a lot. With everyone."

City and county government and bank officials attended the 4 p.m. party. Each centenarian received congressional recognition from U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's office and letters of congratulations from Gov. Jeb Bush and state Sen. Mike Fasano.

Each also received a birthday cake and a corsage or boutonniere.

Active, healthy centenarians are a good sign for people of all ages, said Dr. John Haaga, deputy associate director of the National Institute on Aging in Maryland.

"That's the good news about aging," Haaga said. "At every single age, they're healthier than they used to be."

Still, county officials decided to hold the centenarian celebration early in the year _ just in case.

"We talked about it, and one of the things that I suggested is how do you pick a date sometime during the year," Rags said. "Maybe that person has already passed. So I suggested we make it as soon as possible so that we catch them all."

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzzasptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

100

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COUNTING

Ten people were honored at Tuesday's second annual centenarian party hosted by the Hernando County Commission and SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast. The honorees, and how old each will turn in 2005, were:

Margaret Brandt, 100

Filomena Cerra, 101

Margaret A. Davis, 101

Beryle R. Read, 101

Georgia Tompkins, 101

Argith O'Haire, 101

Hattie Hall, 102

William J. Anderson, 103

Loretta J. McFarland, 103

Marie O'Brien, 103

Hattie Hall, 101, who will turn 102 on July 26, was one of 10 centenarians honored Tuesday at SunTrust Bank's Jefferson Street office in Brooksville. Born in Savannah, Ga., Hall raised five sons and has 10 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. Hall's youngest son, James, 68, brought her to the event.

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