Mamie Rearden lives by the mantra "treat people like you ought to be treated." She's given advice as church mother at Edgefield County's Springfield Baptist Church for 40 years to engaged couples ("make sure you know what you're doing") and gets around with a cane in the house she shares with a daughter and a son.
Mrs. Rearden is 109 years old, born Sept. 7, 1898, according to her South Carolina identification card.
She told daughters Mary McCain and Martha Rearden that her fountain of youth was sharing everything she had.
"You live the best you can -- in the Lord's name," Mrs. Rearden said.
Mrs. Rearden is recognized as the oldest resident of the county, said Tonya Browder, the director of Tompkins Memorial Library, home of Old Edgefield Genealogical Society.
Living to be 100 is becoming more common, but it's still rare, with centenarians accounting for .022 percent of the population, according to Leonard Poon, the director of the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Georgia.
The number of centenarians is expected to increase drastically, though, in the coming years -- the baby boomer generation has already affected the natural pyramid-shape of age, Dr. Poon said.
It's not just the boomers causing a boom in the "oldest old" category, which is the 100-and-older age group within the 85-and-older age group. In all industrialized nations, people are living longer because of science and medical advancements, and there are more also because of overall population growth, Dr. Poon said.
The Institute of Gerontology started a study to learn the secret to a long life 20 years ago.
"What we found was different people use different paths to longevity," Dr. Poon said.
Researchers found the ticket to long life is 30 percent genetics and 70 percent environment, or gene interaction with the environment.
Habits such as eating breakfast on a regular basis and staying active were linked to longevity, as were avoiding habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol.
For Mrs. Rearden, who worked on a farm from childhood until she was 64, staying active would be an understatement. She also did the cooking and sewing for her husband and 11 children, along with responsibilities as church mother.
Some may think of 65 as old, but that was the age at which Mrs. Rearden got her driver's license and started her career in social work.
She says she was always in good health. She was never hospitalized until she was 81 and had dislocated her shoulder; all of her children were born at home.
With her birthday in September, Mrs. Rearden will join an exclusive group: supercentenarians, people who are 110 or older.
There are about 300 supercentenarians in the world, but there are only 75 whose age has been verified, according to Robert Young, a senior claims investigator with the Gerontology Research Group. Of that group, 64 are women.
Dr. Poon said gender plays a role in longevity, a fact he hypothesized to be related to child birth, a heavier burden for women's bodies to carry. Women are built more robust, he said.
There are two documented supercentenarians in Georgia. Brunswick, Ga., resident Beatrice Farve is the sixth-oldest living person, at 112 years of age. Retired Athens pediatrician Leila Denmark is the 74th-oldest, at 110 years.
Mr. Young said two supercentenarians are being investigated in South Carolina. One is Susan Middleton, of West Ashley, who he believes is 110; and Darlington resident Robert Washington, who he also thinks is 110. Neither are on the current list.
L. Stephen Coles, the executive director of the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group, said three things are used for validation of age: proof of birth, either by a birth certificate dated to the original time, or baptismal certificate; a marriage certificate and a photo ID.
Age isn't necessarily the best predictor of survival, Dr. Poon said.
"Chronological age doesn't say much in the functional capacity," he said.
Whether age is just a number, faith or good deeds, Mrs. Rearden is glad to be alive at 109.
"I want to live the best I can."
Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or email@example.com.
TIPS FOR MAKING IT TO TRIPLE DIGITS
Leonard Poon, the director of the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Georgia, and Robert Young, a senior claims investigator for the Gerontology Research Group, give the common characteristics of people who have lived long lives, and tips on how you can achieve longevity yourself.
Since you can't choose your genes, modify your behavior:
- Eat breakfast on a regular basis
- Stay active
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
- Watch your weight
- Eat vegetables and fish
- Don't stress over the small stuff