Toughest thing about being centenarian ‘is watching my children grow old’

by Christine Otis

Remember how you always wanted to belong to a group, but you weren’t old enough? Well, to be a part of this “in” crowd, you have to be at least 100.

These are the Philadelphians invited to Mayor Street’s annual luncheon in honor the city’s centenarians. Of the estimated 560 Philadelphians who are 100 or older, 45 attended the event at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall on Columbus Blvd. Guests of honor were accompanied by family members and caregivers.

The oldest is Anna Henderson, 107, who agreed she’s “getting sorta old,” and added the hardest thing about growing so old has been “watching my children grow old” (her youngest is 66 — “still my baby”). She has had eight children (one is deceased), 19 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.

Henderson said her grandmother, a former slave, lived to be 100. She was a midwife and made house calls, staying with people for days, and for payment, receiving a chicken.

Hearing her repeat her grandmother’s reminiscences made slavery more real to me because it wasn’t coming out of a history book, but from personal experience.

Oldest male at the luncheon was Samuel Evans, 104, who recalled working “for a penny an hour,” on a plantation, 15 hours a day, for 15 cents a day.

Evans is a Philadelphian legend, a one-time concert impresario, politician and civic leader who helped organize Philadelphia’s Head Start program. He has done so much and has been involved in so much he has his own website, and still goes to work.

A huge centenarian cake was cut and served and entertainment was provided by Center in the Park Line Dancers and the Bourbon Street Parade Band of Germantown.

Guests of honor were photographed with the mayor. Deputy City Representative Janis L. Pierce was the emcee.