A century of memories

Turning 100 is an accomplishment, but 'not as remarkable as it once was'

Jay Levin / The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) /

Published Jul 19, 2013 at 05:00AM

You know what ticks off Mary Planten?

She’ll be minding her own beeswax when she happens upon a Holland Christian Home neighbor in the company of a visitor.

“Tell ’em how old you are, Mary!” the neighbor invariably asks Planten, who is 107.

“It’s as if I’m a 3-year-old!” grouses Planten, who doesn’t make a to-do about her age and can’t even find the congratulatory letter from the White House.

Planten lives independently at the North Haledon, N.J., retirement home. She is engaging and witty, and loves email and puzzles. She gets around fine with a walker. Except for aching joints, there’s nothing wrong with her.

“Amazed by myself?” Planten said. “Oh, I don’t know. I received good genes to start with.”

Centenarians are objects of wonder — and there are many more of them to behold. Due to strides in medical care and health practices, their ranks have increased 65.8 percent since 1980, while the nation’s population as a whole rose 36.3 percent. The 2010 census counted 53,364 people age 100 and older in the United States and 1,769 in New Jersey. Projections point to a million centenarian Americans well before the end of the 21st century.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services doesn’t track centenarians or who is the oldest person in the state. In the absence of official data, the increased prevalence of centenarians is typically confirmed through word of mouth. Since December, for example, the weekly Northern Valley Suburbanite has profiled four New Jersey women in its 13-town circulation area who turned 100 — two in Englewood and two in Cresskill. At last week’s Demarest Borough Council meeting, the mayor saluted a pair of residents celebrating 102nd and 103rd birthdays.

Daughters of Miriam Center in Clifton, N.J., has a concentration of centenarians — 12 of the nearly 500 nursing home residents and apartment dwellers.

“Turning 100 is still an accomplishment, don’t get me wrong,” said Karen Speizer, the facility’s marketing director. “But it’s not as remarkable as it once was.”

Daughters of Miriam’s oldest resident, Joe Frost, died Jan. 7, a week after he celebrated his 108th birthday. Paterson native Velma Radcliffe — who on her 111th birthday was hailed in the Congressional Record as the oldest New Jerseyan — died Aug. 31 at 111 years, 5 months and 28 days.

With the passing of Frost and Radcliffe, one might be tempted to anoint Mary Planten, who turned 107 on Christmas Eve, as the oldest New Jerseyan.

But one would be wrong.

Agnes Fenton, of Englewood, is 145 days older. She’ll be 108 on Aug. 1.

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