On Monday, April 20th, I had the pleasure of attending a truly remarkable event, the 29th Annual Salute to DC Centenarians. Officially called Centenarians Day, the Annual Salute to DC Centenarians is a special luncheon honoring DC residents that are 100 years or older. Thirty-one DC Centenarians were in attendance and were graciously joined by DC Mayor, Muriel Bowser; Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Brenda Donald; and other key members of her leadership staff. This event was both a celebration of their milestone and an anointment of respect for the full rich lives they have led. These Centenarians have paved the way for us, and I was honored to be in their presence.
Americans in the top age demographic comprise a large and growing part of our overall population. Between 2010 and 2050, the percent of the population over the age of 65 will almost double to 83.7 million people. This increase is largely the result of a generation of baby boomers who contributed so much to the development of our current social, economic, and political lives.
Since Centenarians have, for years, only made up a small slice of the population, it used to be unusual to meet people like Ms. Betsy Stanford, who is 111 years of age. The good news is Ms. Stanford is quickly gaining good company. The American Community Survey estimates there are a little over 6,000 Americans over age 85; however, by 2050, this number will triple to almost 18,000. Of this group, the fastest growing subset will be Centenarians like Betsy, living well beyond the age of 100.
While attending Centenarians Day, I heard stories about children, grandchildren, and great (great!) grandchildren; about careers in education, public policy, health care, and business; about breaking down gender and racial barriers; and most importantly, about living with dignity in your twilight years.
Corporal Alyce Dixon, age 108, is always a highlight of my visit to this luncheon. She is the last living member of the Women’s Army Corp (WAC) from WWII, and the first one among her class to transition from WAC service to full rank in the US military, becoming a Corporal in the Army before that was even a consideration for young women. The WAC was a women’s branch of the United States Army that disbanded in 1978 when all units were integrated with male units—talk about a history! Today’s women leaders, such as Admiral Michelle Howard, Vice Chair of Naval Operations, the first female and the first African American to become a 4-star admiral in the US Navy, owe much to the career of Corporal Dixon and others like her who paved the way.
Most of these phenomenal Americans are still living their lives to the fullest and aging gracefully in place. Ms Stanford, Corporal Dixon, and their fellow Centenarians are able to age in place in their own homes with the help and support of family members and the community. When I asked Lois Showell to tell me her secret to living this long she immediately replied, “I like to go, go, go, and never let grass grow under my feet! I garden, spend time outside, go to church, and shop whenever I can.”
Spending some time with these incredible men and women, and hearing their stories of accomplishment, deepened my desire to push myself to do more in my life, love harder, enjoy each moment, keep an open mind, and BELIEVE in a life with no limits. I walked away humbled to be blessed with leading an organization whose compassionate senior social services empower, enrich, and elevate a quality of life for the very people that have paved the way. For these reasons, I am so very grateful.