Life After 100

Five centenarians share their secrets to living life to the fullest.

ByABC News
March 31, 2008, 2:55 PM

March 31, 2008 -- Centenarians are living history. They were born when Teddy Roosevelt was president, air conditioning and telephones were luxuries, and the movies cost just five cents without sound. In 1908, Henry Ford started the first assembly line for his Model T, but most people still got around by horse and buggy.

On "Live to Be 150 ... Can You Do It?" with Barbara Walters, five centenarians share the secrets of their remarkable longevity. This dynamic group is living proof that there are many misconceptions about life at 100. Their attitudes and wisdom just might calm your fears about getting old.

Elsa Hoffman, 100, lives in south Florida where she still runs her business of remodeling apartments, and where she continues to have an active social life.

"For some people, the golden years aren't as good as they should be," says Hoffman, "but mine are like sparkling diamonds."

Age certainly doesn't slow her down. For her first three-digit birthday, she bought a brand new purple Lincoln sports car. "When people look at my driver's license they say, 'It can't be.' "

Rosie Ross also keeps socially active as a lifelong musician, who still supports himself with his trumpet. At 102 years old, he is an institution at The Pine Cone Inn outside of Phoenix, Ariz., where he's been playing most Friday nights for the last 50 years.

"As long as you want to hear Clyde McCoy's 'Sugar Blues,' I'll live to play it for you," replies Ross when asked how he lives to be so old. For his first trip to New York for the interview, he bought a brand new $2,000 trumpet and a hip, black leather jacket to match.

Dorothy Young of Ocean Grove, N.J., is also no stranger to the stage. At 18, she landed a job as an assistant to legendary illusionist Harry Houdini for years. Houdini may have passed away decades ago, but she still keeps her promise not to reveal any of his secrets.

At 100, Young also shows that fun and romance is still possible when you reach triple digits. She and Stan Mader, her 94-year-old boyfriend, have been together for 10 years. They see each other two to three times a week for breakfast and dinner jokingly, they claim that all that happens in the hours between is a friendly game of bridge.

Relationships like Young and Mader's are important because life can be very lonely for seniors making it past 100 takes real courage. Most centenarians have outlived lifelong friends, almost always husbands and wives, and often their children.

Lillian Cox, 101, spent her entire life in Tallahassee, Fla. Until recently, she took care of her 80-year-old daughter who was recovering from cancer. Often, it's the other way around, where children take care of the parents.

That commitment to family is a big reason these centenarians are still living. The group interviewed for the show has a total of 9 children, 16 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren, and they all continue to lead active, purposeful lives.

Sadly, just two weeks ago, Cox's daughter, Carolyn, passed away.

She lives alone but continues to be quite active. She jokes that when she bought her house, she was in the country, and now with all the development that has happened over the decades, she is in the middle of downtown. For 28 years, she ran a successful dress shop before retiring to see the world.

"I have traveled to Europe six or seven times. And Hawaii several times. You name it, [and] I have been there. I didn't dream I would live to be 80, much less 100 years old, so I just spent my money and had a good time."

Cox prides herself on not having a maid and caring for her four bedroom house on her own she even does her own gardening.

"Bending down is OK, getting up is a problem," Cox jokingly admits. Redefining society's perception of centenarians is a mission for Lynn Peters Adler, the founder of the National Centenarian Awareness project which she runs from her home in Phoenix, Ariz.

Adler, author of "Centenarians: The Bonus Years," accompanied the centenarians on their trip to New York for Walters' special. In her 22 years of experience, Adler had developed what she calls "the centenarian spirit," which are the characteristics that she has found in people who live to be 100 and older.