Housemates celebrate 100th
by Rebekah L. Sanders - Jun. 28, 2008
"The Arizona Republic"
June brought two
remarkable events to one unconventional Buckeye
"family." Esther Williams and Katie Wedgworth, both part
of a tight-knit bunch at Jolley Family Assisted Living
Home, turned 100 in June.
"I never dreamed I'd ever be this old," said
Williams, dressed in sparkly earrings and a silvery
satin top, at her 100th birthday party last week. She
was cracking jokes and telling touching memories to the
20 family members and friends gathered to mark the
milestone. Just a few days later, Wedgworth, nicknamed
Grandma by the other residents, was blowing out candles
on the strawberry cake baked for her own special
occasion. "Thanks for wishing me 'Happy Birthday,' "
Wedgworth told a niece on the phone, bragging that she
still was able to walk around the house.
For one day each, Williams and Wedgworth gained
celebrity status among their housemates, though Williams
was quick to point out on Wedgworth's birthday, "I beat
her to it!"
Fay Jolley Webster, who owns and runs the
assisted-living facility in Buckeye with her husband,
said she felt honored to know Williams and Wedgworth.
"It's rare to meet anyone who's 100 and to have two in
the same month in this home is amazing," Webster said.
The number of centenarians in the United States is
growing, according to Lynn Peters Adler, founder and
director of Phoenix-based National Centenarian Awareness
Project. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2000 reported 50,000
people over 100 years old. It recently revised the
number to about 84,000, a 68 percent increase, she said.
In Arizona, more than 700 people have passed the
century mark. "It's a great distinction for people to
live to 100 or more," said Adler, whose foundation
rewards centenarians with certificates and advocates for
greater involvement of seniors in society. "Centenarians
are role models for the future of aging. They have the
most wonderful spirit."
At the birthday parties, Williams' straight-faced
humor and Wedgworth's loyalty to family were on full
display. When Laurie Burgess, a 46-year-old Chicago
lawyer, spoke of her grandmother's reputation as a "card
shark," Williams didn't skip a beat.
"We played Rook all night long to 7 a.m." Williams
said, recounting an overnight visit to Burgess' sister
and her dorm friends at Wheaton College when she was in
her mid-70s. "The other four went to bed and missed
their classes," Williams said. "I got up, took a bath
and went to breakfast."
Friends and family told stories about the former
elementary-school teacher, Scrabble lover and avid TV
tennis watcher, who packed her belongings into a
convertible red Mustang and moved to Arizona at 63 and
received her first passport at 95.
"Esther's a jewel," said Konnie Smith, Williams'
massage therapist and friend. "You just can't help but
Wedgworth was the center of attention on her birthday
as well. She talked fondly of the family farm in
Virginia, her mother's pansies and snagging her first
boyfriend when she was 6.
"All I wanted was Charlie Mayer. He was a real cute
kid," Wedgworth said. Wedgworth, a homemaker who lived
in Palo Verde near Buckeye for decades with her late
beekeeper husband, spoke in detail of her family with
"My granddaughter plays tennis in Oregon . . . Mark's
learning more and more about the computer business . . .
Lauri is a computer designer for Intel," she said,
ticking off her grandchildren's accomplishments.
Later in the day, a bevy of them arrived from out of
state to celebrate: Mark Wedgworth and Jeri Fredell,
with their spouses and Wedgworth's four
great-grandchildren in tow. On a day that might justify
extravagant gifts, Wedgworth received her one 100th
birthday wish: seeing her beloved grandchildren.
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