Augusta area 100-year-olds share secrets of longevity

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Local centenarians are few in number, but rich in wisdom.

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Ola Mae Curtis, of Augusta, was born Oct. 16, 1912.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Ola Mae Curtis, of Augusta, was born Oct. 16, 1912.

The Augusta Chronicle posed five questions to three seniors, age 100, and one on the cusp of his 100th birthday. Here, they offer insight on a century of living.

Ola Mae Curtis was born Oct. 16, 1912, in Jefferson County, Ga. The oldest of 10 children and the daughter of black cotton sharecroppers, Curtis went on to raise a large family herself. She’s mother to six, grandmother to 11 and great-grandmother to five. Curtis lives in Augusta with her daughter, Verma.

1. What was your earliest memory?

“I remember my grandmother on my father’s side and my grandmother on my mother’s side. They were very good grandparents, and they liked to see us and they’d come kiss us and … bring us little things, you know, like grandparents do.”

2. What’s the secret to living to 100?

“Well, my secret is to try to do right, treat people right, and eat right. Go to church. My mother and father believed in carrying us to church and then Sunday school. Those are things you’re supposed to do, you know.”

3. What was your favorite decade to live through?

“I enjoyed living through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” she said, because it was the time when she had kids in the house and got to see them grow up, go off to college and start families of their own.

4. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

“All the presidents were white, but we liked them all.” And she's proud to have lived long enough to see the election of the first black president.

5. What advice would you offer others looking to live a long and happy life?

“Treat your fellow man right.” And for the young people, “Treat the teachers right. Study the lessons.”

Roy Raborn was born Aug. 16, 1913, in Greenwood, S.C. He was the youngest of 15 children, a “country boy” who learned to drive on a Ford Model T. The Army veteran fought in World War II’s D-Day invasion of Normandy. After the war, he returned to a previous career at a men’s haberdashery in South Carolina, where he lived for more than eight decades before retiring to Augusta.

1. What was your earliest memory?

“I must have been 4 or 5 years old. We lived in the country. We got our water by a well. We had a windmill that drew our water up. This storm blew that windmill down.”

2. What’s the secret to living to 100?

“I give credit to my longevity to one thing. Back then we lived off basics. There was no such thing as fast food. We had corn bread, field peas, collards.”

Raborn said Brandon Wilde, the retirement community where he lives, has also helped him.

“They give you a routine. It’s good, basic food. They encourage you to do something.”

3. What was your favorite decade to live through?

“My teenage years. I did not have too much responsibilities before the Depression. Things changed then.”

4. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

“The biggest change is individuals’ attitude. People don’t love each other like they used to. When I was growing up, I wasn’t afraid to go out at night. We didn’t lock our doors.”

5. What advice would you offer others looking to live a long and happy life?

“I’ve got three great-grandchildren. The boys, they have little game things that they play all the time. They do not get out for sports,” which he suggested all kids would be well to do.

Margaret Polonus was born July 12, 1913, in Blacklick, Pa. After a career as an emergency room nurse, she worked in home health care for St. Joseph Hospital in Augusta, and later, as a hospice volunteer. Until her late 90s, she was active in water aerobics and volunteer work, driving her lime green Volkswagen Bug to local nursing homes with her Shih Tzu therapy dog.

She has 22 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, with four more on the way.

1. What was your earliest memory?

“Mom made poppy seed rolls at Christmas,” a tradition her daughter, Susan Mucha, carries on today.

2. What’s the secret to living to 100?

Staying positive, even after challenges like a stroke two years ago. “I’m still changing lives.”

3. What was your favorite decade to live through?

“The ’50s because of the music,” particularly Frank Sinatra.

4. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

“Electricity. I used to have to heat the iron on the stove.”

5. What advice would you offer others looking to live a long and happy life?

“Stop smoking.”

Chick Pelonero was born Oct. 6, 1913, in Pittston, Pa. He was drafted into World War II, landing on Utah Beach on D-Day. He was stationed at Fort Gordon, and went on to work for the VA Hospital in Augusta. He turns 100 next month and plans to celebrate with his friend, Roy Raborn, and the Army Signal Corps Band.

1. What was your earliest memory?

“I liked to play marbles. I got to be very good at it. I thought I was really something.”

2. What’s the secret to living to 100?

“Clean living. Clean conscience. I like people. I love people.”

3. What was your favorite decade to live through?

“The war years. I was happy and proud to serve my country. I did the best I could. I always say this country, the USA, is the best country in the world.”

4. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?

“I was drafted. They gave us a big send-off. Of course, my mother cried. There’s no draft anymore.”

5. What advice would you offer others looking to live a long and happy life?

“Greet people. Be happy to shake hands with them. Stay out of trouble. Take advantage of your education. Lead an honest life. Also, be a religious person. I go to church every Sunday. I’ve never been in jail.”

KNOW A CENTENARIAN?

The CSRA Area Agency on Aging calls centenarians “one of the region’s most vital resources.” It’s why the agency is working to launch a regional club for seniors 100 or older, said Director Jeanette Cummings. The agency hopes to use the CSRA Centenarian Club to print a centenarian directory, a small yearbook with interviews of local centenarians.

Community support is needed to identify more centenarians, who are also honored at an annual awards and recognition program in May. See aging.ga.gov or e-mail jcummings@csrarc.ga.gov for more information.


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