When someone turns 100, these volunteers are there to make sure they're honored | Drafmedia.com

When someone turns 100, these volunteers are there to make sure they're honored | Drafmedia.com

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Paula Naylor pushes her father, Paul Romanello, with his wheelchair connected Dec. 21 successful Tulsa, Okla. Romanello was precocious celebrated by the Centenarians of Oklahoma erstwhile helium turned 100 years old. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

Paula Naylor pushes her father, Paul Romanello, with his wheelchair connected Dec. 21 successful Tulsa, Okla. Romanello was precocious celebrated by the Centenarians of Oklahoma erstwhile helium turned 100 years old.

Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

Gloria Helmuth has seen the joyousness of what it means to crook 100. She's not determination herself — she's 82 — but implicit the years, she's helped wage tribute to hundreds of centenarians. And that has fixed her unsocial penetration into what it means to really unrecorded to 100.

There are the evident wellness challenges, for one. And a batch of the time, it tin beryllium downright lonely. Loved ones — similar spouses, friends, adjacent children — whitethorn person passed years, and sometimes decades, earlier a idiosyncratic crosses the period mark.

"I conscionable consciousness that it's important that they cognize that idiosyncratic does attraction astir them," Helmuth says. "And that's the crushed for our existence."

Helmuth is the manager of an all-volunteer radical called the Centenarians of Oklahoma. Their ngo is simple: to grant anyone successful the authorities who is 100 years of property oregon older.

Gloria Helmuth (left) and Sue Scott from the Centenarians of Oklahoma airs for a representation connected Dec. 21 successful their Tulsa office. Since its founding successful 1991, the radical says it has honored much than 2,700 centenarians and counting. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

The U.S. has much centenarians wide than immoderate different nation, and acknowledgment to aesculapian advances and changes successful lifestyle, it's a increasing population. There are astir 90,000 centenarians surviving successful the U.S. today, according to the Census Bureau, astir 3 times arsenic galore arsenic determination were immoderate 40 years ago. In different 40 years, that fig could swell to astir 600,000.

In Oklahoma, determination are thought to beryllium astir 500 radical who are 100 oregon older, according to the Centenarians of Oklahoma. Since its founding successful 1991, the radical says it has honored much than 2,700 and counting.

Meet the centenarian who holds the satellite grounds for the longest vocation astatine 1 company

"We question each implicit the state," says Sue Scott, committee seat for the enactment and 1 of the volunteers who conducts its tribute ceremonies. "Our oldest idiosyncratic conscionable passed distant past twelvemonth ... she was 112."

Two others are acceptable to go supercentenarians successful the adjacent twelvemonth — 110 years old. "They person immoderate stories to tell," says Scott.

Gloria Helmuth displays an illustration of the plaque that the radical presents to those who are 100 oregon older. In Oklahoma, determination are thought to beryllium astir 500 radical live contiguous who are 100 oregon older. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

Honoring the state's "Golden Oakies"

A emblematic tribute ceremonial features a abbreviated biographical sketch of each caller centenarian, on with immoderate trivia the radical has collected aft much than 30 years successful operation. Scott mightiness constituent out, for example, that much than 80% of the centenarians they've honored are women, oregon however the highest percent of centenarians anyplace is successful Japan. Each caller inductee gets a certificate and a "Golden Okie" pin.

"We've done it successful each situation. We've done it successful bars and garages and extracurricular and inside," Scott says. "And during the pandemic we did it done windows — we stood extracurricular and the seniors were inside. Anyway that works."

Each caller inductee receives a "Golden Okie" pin arsenic portion of the celebration. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

Scott says she has adjacent been invited to wage tribute to centenarians connected their deathbeds.

"I judge they tin perceive us, due to the fact that 1 peculiar antheral would compression the manus of his lad lasting determination beside him erstwhile I would work definite things astir him," says Scott. "I deliberation helium was knowing immoderate of it."

There's besides an world broadside to the group's work. When a centenarian dies, volunteers instrumentality the biographical accusation that they've gathered and nonstop it to the Edmon Low Library astatine Oklahoma State University for researchers determination who survey centenarians. The accusation is besides shared with the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The value of paying tribute

One of the group's newest inductees is Paul Romanello, who was calved successful the Hell's Kitchen vicinity of New York successful 1922 — backmost erstwhile Warren Harding was president.

Talking to Romanello is similar going backmost successful time. He tin archer you astir however arsenic a boy, he'd navigator potatoes close successful the thoroughfare of what's present Midtown Manhattan. Or however helium says helium memorized the oculus exam to marque it into the Army for World War II. Had helium not, helium mightiness person missed the USO creation wherever helium met the emotion of his life.

"She had a passionateness for dancing," Romanello remembers. "In her dying days, she was still, 'Paul, creation with me. Dance with me.'"

Paula Naylor is 1 of Romanello's 5 children. She says the past fewer years person been pugnacious for her dad. He mislaid his woman successful 2015 aft 70 years of marriage. He stayed successful their location for a fewer years, but would yet determination into an assisted surviving facility. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Naylor says helium was beauteous overmuch isolated from the world.

Paula Naylor poses with her father, Paul Romanello. "He seemed precise blessed that helium was getting each this attention, and helium knew helium had yet reached 100," she says of his absorption to being honored by the Centenarians of Oklahoma. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

"We noticed that helium was rather a spot antithetic from not being capable to interact with people, due to the fact that helium was a precise sociable Italian," says Naylor.

But the solemnisation for his 100th birthday, held past period astatine a elder surviving assemblage successful Tulsa, gave her begetter thing to look guardant to.

"It was good," Romanello says of his celebration. "I thought it was nice."

"When we rolled him into the room and the full household was there, helium was truthful excited," Naylor says. "He seemed precise blessed that helium was getting each this attention, and helium knew helium had yet reached 100. And that's what he'd been talking astir for months."

Words of wisdom

Helmuth, the Centenarians of Oklahoma director, says stories similar that are what it's each about.

"Those are the things that marque our day, that marque doing this worthwhile to us," says Helmuth. "The fewer of america that bash this are blessed by being capable to enactment with the 100-year-olds."

Over the years, the organization's volunteers person collected words of contented from the centenarians astir however to unrecorded a long, afloat life.

Some springiness applicable advice, similar "eat your vegetables" oregon "work hard and prevention money." Others are much philosophical, similar "don't interest astir what you can't change" oregon "look for bully successful everything."

Then there's 1 of Helmuth's favorites.

"One woman conscionable wrote 'keep connected breathing,'" she says with a laugh. "She's got a bully consciousness of humor. She's going to beryllium OK."

Paul Romanello was calved successful the Hell's Kitchen vicinity of New York successful 1922. He met his woman of 70 years astatine a USO dance. "She had a passionateness for dancing," helium says. Michael Noble Jr. for NPR hide caption

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Michael Noble Jr. for NPR

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