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Positive outlook key to longevity for Julia Jay

Valencia woman celebrates 100th birthday at the SCV Senior Center

Posted: November 8, 2009 9:45 p.m.
Updated: November 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Pat Palmer, on bass, and Morris Silver, on piano, play "Strike Up the Band" as volunteer Darnell Ocampo, center, brings out Jay's birthday cake.

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The band is playing, people are cheering and Julia Jay of Valencia is clapping along at her 100th birthday at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. Dressed in a snappy red suit, Jay, who turned the century mark on Oct. 16, blew out her candles with ease and seemed genuinely surprised at all the fuss.

"It's no different. It's the same old feeling I've had on birthdays since I was 10," Jay said. "No news at all, but maybe no news is good news."

That easygoing, optimistic attitude is at the core of Jay's longevity, according to daughter Julia George, with whom Jay lives.

"I think her secret is that she wakes up every morning and says, ‘Look at the beautiful flowers,'" George said.

Born and raised in Vergennes, Vt. in 1909, Jay was the daughter of the town doctor and attended a two-room schoolhouse. She said the kids were so nice and everyone respected the teacher, a far cry from today's headlines about shootings and gang rapes on school campuses.

"What I read in the paper horrifies me," Jay said referring specifically to the Richmond, Calif. incident.

Valedictorian of her high school, Jay graduated at the top of her class. Jay, who speaks five languages, was a teacher before marrying Orson Jay and staying home to take care of their three children.

Since she was a girl, Jay has kept her mind active by reading, a habit well-suited to her curious, intellectual nature, George said.

When the family went back to Vergennes for a recent visit, the town library gave Jay a hero's welcome because she remembers when it was built in 1912. She was just three years old.

"Mom always says, ‘As long as I have a good book, I'm happy,'" George said.

Four-legged companionship is also important to Jay, who's always had a pet. Currently, she shares her home with Teddy the German Shepherd and Katrina the cat.

"I love them. Animals are just about the sweetest companions we can have," Jay said.

A witness to a century full of conflict and advances, one particular event stands out in Jay's mind: the women's right to vote in 1920.

"That was very important," Jay said. "It really changed things for women. I was disappointed more women didn't come out that day to vote. It seemed like big news to me."

"Mom was a feminist before they invented the term," George said.

Seeing the ravages of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War has also left an impression on Jay.

"Any kind of war is a tragedy. Unfortunately, every part of the world seems to have some kind of fire going on," she said. "It's awful about the wars going on right now. I wanted to see a peaceful world, to me, that would be the best thing."

A non-smoker and occasional wine drinker ("she'll have a glass every couple years on a holiday," George said), Jay eschewed soda for herself and her family ("I like coffee," she said) and kept a modest exercise regimen of walking until a few years ago.

She is free of any major health issues that can plague the elderly; a tiny hearing aid and holding on to her daughter's hand for assistance when walking are the only indication that Jay isn't completely independent.

Jay is a regular at the senior center's adult daycare program, attending almost every weekday (the program is available from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m., Monday through Friday). Her enthusiastic and helpful presence has endeared Jay to the program's staff.

Adult daycare supervisor Glady Ehrhardt has grown close to Jay over the last five years.

"I knew how old she was, so it just amazes how her mind continues. She's very sharp and she loves discussion time. Julia knows every flower in every state, as well as the state bird. It's unbelievable," Ehrhardt said.

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