It is a rarity for people to celebrate 100 or more birthdays in their lifetime. However, there’s a group of seniors in Palm Beach Gardens who have achieved this significant milestone, and to celebrate they are joining the newly founded First Century Club. The club was started by team members at La Posada, the premier continuing care retirement community in Palm Beach Gardens. To launch the club, La Posada hosted a special luncheon welcoming six of its centenarian residents to the club. Residents Milton Stier and Esther Whitley turned 100 within the last year, and they have some fascinating reflections from the last 100 years of their lives, as well as advice for the younger generations. When asked about their favorite inventions, it was interesting to hear that Stier mentioned the zipper and Whitley said penicillin. In fact, Whitley was one of the first people ever to make a long distance call in New York.
Milton Stier was born on April 20, 1917, and to commemorate his 100th birthday his family threw him a party at La Posada where they welcomed more than 80 guests to take part in celebrating Stier’s life. Stier has led an extremely interesting life, having studied engineering and worked for a company which made parts for machines used in the Norden bombsight, he has always been a mechanical man who enjoys using his hands to build things.
“During the course of my career, we relied on a device called a slide ruler, which is essentially a ruler inside of a ruler, to deliver mathematical calculations since we did not have computers back then,” said Stier. “Despite the lack of these technological inventions at that time in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed doing hands-on work, and this love for building and creating extended into my hobbies. I developed a passion and knack for making metal sculptures in my free time. When I retired and moved to La Posada 11 years ago, I decided to pick up stained glass making and now spend my time creating pieces of art for my family, like jewelry boxes with stained glass designs for my great-granddaughters. I’ll put little abstract birds or butterflies on them. ”
Stier says that the greatest achievements he has witnessed during his lifetime are the developments pertaining to technology. While he opts to only use a cell phone for calls, he is impressed that information from around the world is available to people at the touch of a fingertip. He recalls that computers were once so large they were contained in buildings, yet now people can wear them as a watch on their wrist. Stier feels that technology will be a great field for younger generations to make their mark upon and is excited at what his great-grandchildren will achieve.
“While technology was the greatest advancement I witnessed, the zipper is one of my most favorite inventions,” said Stier. “As simple as it is, I was thrilled we could quit using buttons on everything, as the zipper was easier and aesthetically more pleasing on certain garments. When comparing the cost of living between my youth and the world right now, it is hard to believe that when I was first married I could go to the grocery store, spend one dollar and come out with two bags. Now, you can’t even get a cup of coffee for that price! Having lived to be 100 years old, people sometimes ask me about the secret to living a long life. For me, it was an amazing 68-year marriage to my wife, fulfillment in my family, traveling the world, building things and creating artwork. There’s nothing I wish that I would have done differently. I did everything I ever wanted, I alleviated stress as much as I could and I did things that made me happy. My advice to the younger generations is to make the best of life by doing what you enjoy the most – and for everyone that is different. If you want to try something, try it. Then you won’t have any regrets when you get older.”
Stier says that your thinking changes as you get older, that you learn to not let things bother you as much. He believes that people in general were more happy-go-lucky in his younger years and that life was simpler. They made their own toys, played marbles in the street and kicked the can down the road. It was a much less complicated time, and there were less drugs and crime. He feels lucky to have lived such an untroubled and content life and believes that everything worked out in a positive way for him.
Esther Whitley was born on October 3, 1916, and to commemorate her 100th birthday her family rented out the dining room at the Hilton on Singer Island for a half day. She says it was an event to remember. Her goal for 2017 is to keep living independently, which she has done for the last ten years since moving into La Posada. During her free time she really enjoys walking and being outdoors, shopping with her family, reading novels and the daily paper, as well as sewing.
“During my lifetime I have been a part of many exciting milestones,” said Whitley. “Once when I was living in New York City, I was given the opportunity to be one of the first people to make a long-distance call. I phoned a friend in South Carolina from a woman’s house in New York. The development of the TV was also exciting to witness firsthand. After listening to shows on the radio for several years, my family and I delighted in seeing those shows brought to life on the black and white screen of the 10 inch television in our living room. We were all glued to our seats watching every update of man landing on the moon in July of 1969. While it was unbelievable to see all of those advances, today’s achievements are even more awe inspiring.”
While Stier’s favorite invention is the zipper, Whitley’s is penicillin. Doctors had just been granted permission to use the drug when her husband’s appendix ruptured. His doctor came out to say there was no hope, but then came back and said to wait a minute, that they had one chance because they had just received penicillin. They pumped him full, and it saved his life.
“The medical advances have been outstanding during my lifetime,” said Whitley. “When people ask me about the secret to a long life I tell them it’s important to maintain healthy habits like eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, keeping in touch with friends and family and doing what you love, which for me was traveling. My advice to the younger generations is to live each day like it is your last, don’t be afraid to reach for the stars and help someone with something every day in some way. If I could go back and tell my 20-year or 30-year old self something, I would advise myself to accept change with gratitude and always work at having a positive attitude."
Whitley has traveled extensively during her lifetime, visiting places like the Holy Land, the Great Wall of China, Ireland, Paris, Nova Scotia, Czech Republic and Hawaii. She has visited all but one of the 50 states in the U.S. After growing up on a farm in South Carolina, she was exposed to many amazing opportunities when she married her husband, who was commissioned to build battleships for the war efforts. His company and their dreams took them all over the world. She says that those memories will always be with her. When she lies down at night or sits and reflects on her life, she thinks of what a happy journey it has been, and says that those memories are really stimulating. She understands that not many people will have the same experiences, and she is very thankful for them.
“We wanted to start this club for residents because reaching the age of 100 years is a significant milestone,” said Brad Cadiere, executive director of La Posada. “We also felt that it would give them the opportunity to get better acquainted with fellow centenarians who are living at the senior living community. We plan to host two to three events a year so they can reminisce with each other and develop new friendships with their peers. It is a true delight hearing the wisdom and stories from the last 100-plus years.”