Anna Wichern, who will be 100 years old in June, holds a photo of herself and her siblings as young adults. Wichern is among Colorado centenarians and soon-to-be centenarians who will be honored at a Steamboat Springs celebration in May.

Tamera Manzanares/Courtesy

Anna Wichern, who will be 100 years old in June, holds a photo of herself and her siblings as young adults. Wichern is among Colorado centenarians and soon-to-be centenarians who will be honored at a Steamboat Springs celebration in May.

Aging Well: Centennial seniors tell timeless stories

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Centenarian Celebration

The Routt County Council on Aging will host a celebration honoring Colorado seniors reaching 100 years old 2011 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 6 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The event will include a light breakfast, entertainment and an awards ceremony. RSVP is requested. To attend, call 303-866-5288 or email tara.franck@state... by April 22.

The Centenarian Celebration will include awards recognizing senior leaders for their contributions to older adults. Nominations can be made for individuals, businesses and organizations whose work has improved older adults’ lives in Routt, Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin or Summit counties. Nominations will be accepted through Friday. For more information, call 970-879-0633 or visit www.rccoaging.org.

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For more information about the Okinawa Centenarian Study, visit www.okicent.org.

— As a child, Anna Wichern would gather with other children outside the swinging doors of a New York City saloon to steal a peek at the patrons. That is, before a policeman tapped their little shoes with his baton and told them to skedaddle.

Childhood memories shine bright for Wichern, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in June. Wichern fondly recalls her happy upbringing and close-knit family, which eventually brought her to Steamboat Springs. She is roommates with her younger sister at the Doak Walker Care Center.

“I had a good home, good parents and good food,” Wichern said. “We had a lovely life.”

An elder’s stories are a gift. Amidst all the change and challenge they’ve encountered, their memories seem to settle on life’s simple, yet important, lessons.

Wichern and other Colorado seniors who have reached or will reach 100 years of age this year soon will be honored at a celebration in Steamboat Springs.

The Centenarian Celebration, hosted by the Routt County Council on Aging, is May 6 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The event is sponsored by the Colorado Commission on Aging and held in a different community in spring.

In addition to honoring centenarians, the celebration will include awards recognizing individuals, businesses and organizations for their contributions to older adults in Routt, Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties.

The Routt County Council on Aging is accepting information about Colorado centenarians interested in being part of the event, and nominations for Friend of Seniors awards, through Friday.

Centenarians are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S., Japan and other developed nations, according to the Okinawa Centenarian Study, an ongoing look at the extraordinary longevity of elders in Okinawa, Japan.

There are about 80,000 people 100 years or older in the U.S. That number likely will top 1 million by the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The increase in the number of centenarians worldwide largely is because of access to better medical care, public health infrastructure, housing, income and nutrition.

Okinawa might have the highest centenarian ratio, with about 50 centenarians per 100,000 people, compared to 10 to 20 centenarians per 100,000 in the U.S.

The Okinawa Centenarian Study found elders there have cleaner arteries, lower cholesterol, a much lower risk of hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, prostate, colon and ovarian cancers, and less dementia, than their Western counterparts.

Researchers suspect genetic elements and lifestyle factors influence Okinawans’ long and healthy lives. These include the Okinawan diet — low in calories and high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and good fats — exercise and their avoidance of smoking.

State of mind also might help extend life expectancy.

A study composed of interviews with healthy centenarians in England found they most often enjoyed talking about living as independently as possible, their continuing growth and development and ongoing close relationships.

The study, conducted by the University of Surrey, was published Oct. 22 in the Nursing Older People journal.

Wichern never expected to see 100, but her positive outlook and active life reflect attributes noted among centenarians in the England study.

She enjoyed a long career selling insurance for MetLife in New York City and appreciated the ability to make a good living.

She enjoyed dancing but never stayed out too late. She was married for 18 years before her husband, John, passed away.

Wichern still dances and also enjoys reading. Staff at the Doak Walker Care Center call her a superstar because she participates in all the activities at the facility, including day trips and projects with special friends at the GrandKids child care center.

“I keep myself active, I keep going,” she said.

Sitting with Wichern a while, hearing her stories and sensing her overall contentment with life, reveals that living happy is perhaps more important than living long, though it’s possible to do both.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information about Aging Well, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7606.

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