In The Pipeline: Fruitful centuries

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Mark Twain

"The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person."

Andy Rooney

I received a note from my friend Kathleen Olson last week. She works at Huntington Terrace, a senior community on Florida Street, as director of community relations.

She told me that the Talbert Medical Group, for the second year in a row, was holding a luncheon at her facility for many of its patients who are 99 or older.

That was a luncheon I wouldn't miss for the world.

On Sept. 30, 13 people, aged 99 to 106, members of the Century Club, got together with family and friends to be honored and celebrated. Talbert Medical Group has 10 full-service health-care locations in Southern California and chose Huntington Beach as the location for this luncheon.

When I got there, before all of the guests of honor had arrived, Alexis Kim, the marketing manager for Talbert Medical Group, told me this is her favorite event of the year.

"To see these people here today is life changing," she said. "It reminds us that taking care of ourselves really can lead to a long and fruitful life."

"We created the Century Club to honor seniors' longevity and to promote continued health awareness for seniors 85 years of age and above," said Dr. Keith Wilson, who had the idea for the club in the first place. "People are living longer. We have 140 people in the Century Club, plus more than 3,500 people who are 85 to 98 years of age in what we call the Silver Circle."

The 13 who attended the luncheon gathered in place for a group photo (Mayor Cathy Green was on hand to proclaim it Talbert Medical Group Day in Huntington Beach), and then everyone sat down to listen to a few speeches, but mostly, to socialize.

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with many of the attendees. There was Analda McQuade, 102, who lives in Huntington Beach. She has 24 great-grandchildren, and her 80-something daughter accompanied her to the luncheon.

Mildred Buck, 101, also lives in town. And who could forget Wilhelmina Vanderwijck, 106, who also resides in Surf City? Born in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1904 (the year Teddy Roosevelt was first elected president), she can still push her own wheelchair.

Then there was Bill Tapia, the famed 102-year-old ukulele player from Westminster. Born on New Year's Day 1908, in Hawaii, today he is called the World's Oldest Professional Musician.

"The "Duke of Uke," as he is also known, began playing at age 10, performing "Stars and Stripes Forever" for World War I troops in Hawaii. Over the course of his storied career, he played with Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. He also trained Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, the Little Rascals and Jimmy Durante, among many other stars who needed to "look" like they were playing on camera.

And even though he'd just gotten back from playing shows in Hawaii the night before (and Japan just before that), he brought the house down with "My Little Grass Shack" at the luncheon (next he's off to play in New York City).

Before the performance, Bill told me he remembers playing for the soldiers in World War I.

"Still one of my favorite gigs," he smiled. "I mean, it was for Woodrow Wilson."

Tapia's memory is sharp as a tack as he talks about his favorite big bands and jazz players. "I'm very lucky to be able to still play gigs all over the world. Music keeps me young and feeling good."

He can even play the uke behind his head like another noted ax man, Jimi Hendrix. "But I was doing it 50 years ago," he said.

There's an award-winning documentary on the life of Mr. Tapia called "To You Sweetheart, Aloha." It's easy to imagine that award-winning pieces could be made about all of the Century Club attendees.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at

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