This is Frank and Frank defines what a Wellderly is – meaning he has lived into his ninth decade and beyond without developing a significant chronic medical condition and is functioning at a high cognitive level. Researchers are studying the genetic secrets of the Wellderly.
I recently met Frank while visiting a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. We were preoccupied with hand feeding PosterBoy the sheep when we heard, “If you find you’re missing a couple fingers, you’ll know why.”
This made us all laugh and turn to find Frank grinning ear to ear. We immediately fell into conversation with him because he was curious what we were feeding the sheep.
Frank was on vacation from Southern California, traveling with a godson (Rich) and Rich’s wife, Sue. He was two weeks from his 100th birthday. We clapped in appreciation of this announcement to which Frank replied, “Well, don’t congratulate me yet….I gotta make it through the next two weeks first.”
It was a two week whirlwind trip he was embarking on. In Charleston he had located his father’s homestead and was delighted. After Charleston, he was headed to the Masters Golf tournament in Georgia. Upon his return to California, he had two of his own big birthday party celebrations to attend.
Turns out Frank was a professional golfer in his younger years. He traveled extensively in his life to various corners of the world, which usually included competing in golf. Frank was also a successful businessman, running a couple of companies.
Frank’s wife died five years ago. He spoke of his wife as a beautiful Southern Belle. He and his wife had not had children. The children of his wife’s best friend and the children of Frank’s best friend became “our adoptive godchildren.” Frank explained that he wanted Rich and Sue to experience the Masters, which was the reason for heading to Georgia.
We all made our way to the plantation restaurant, continuing in our discussion. Rich was pushing Frank in a transportation chair. I assumed he was wheel-chair bound. When the ground became too sandy to push the chair, Rich suggested to Frank that he would have to stand up. Without any hesitation, Frank got to his feet and proceeded walking unassisted.
As they passed a parked child’s stroller, Frank suggested to Rich, “Hey Rich, let’s swap my chair for that thing. No one will even notice.”
We separated in the restaurant as we were seated in different sections. We met up at the buffet table. I had claimed it would not be likely that Frank would choose the buffet menu. It would mean too much standing, balancing a plate full of food, and too many food choices. This Wellderly not only was at the buffet table but stated he had a good appetite.
As Frank and his family began to depart from the restaurant, there were 3 wait staff saying goodbye and waving him off. Before leaving Frank climbed two flights of stairs up to the restrooms, using only the railing to pull himself forward.
Sue told me that Frank lived alone in his house, still drove, and had no personal services other than someone to help with his dog.
What I learned from this Wellderly:
In this brief encounter with Frank I felt amazed and inspired. He broke several of my preconceived notions of what being 100 looks like. I don’t think there are any secrets to Frank making it to the age of 100.
Frank may simply have good genes which have propelled him towards 100 years of age. Plus living in sunny California can only be an advantage in aging without harsh and isolating climates. Most likely he was active his whole life as an athlete.
It was Frank’s interest in social engagement and his humor which really convinced me of the reasons behind his longevity. He still has a zest for life. He draws people towards him with his genuine curiosity.
We asked Frank in looking back on his life if there was anything he would change and he quickly answered, “Nothing.” What he emphasized was being lucky and grateful to have been witness to so much change in technology and the world around him. He added that if there was one thing he could change, it would be avoiding crowds. For someone who doesn’t like crowds, he sure knows how to work one.
May is Older Americans Month:
This year’s theme is Age Out Loud. More than ever before older Americans are working longer, trying new things, and engaging in their communities. What it means to age has changed. North Shore Elder Services strives to help our elders maintain their independence, take charge of their lives, maintain wellness and advocate for themselves and others.
Now is the time to recognize and celebrate what getting older looks like today. It is an opportunity to celebrate our treasured older generation and show our gratitude for their wisdom and the life they have passed on to us.