Going long

Like the chorus line of old ladies with walkers traipsing across the stage of The Producers, the 172 members of the Ninety Plus Club honored at the 19th Annual “Celebration of Life” Birthday Luncheon exhibited vitality, athleticism and a sense of humor as they navigated the overflow crowd at the DoubleTree Resort on Nov. 21.

The event, organized by the City of Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation Department and funded by Santa Barbara Securities, The Hutton Foundation, the Santa Barbara Foundation and the DoubleTree Resort, was designed to honor the combined 15,899 years of wisdom and longevity of some of Santa Barbara’s most inspirational figures.

Oldest among the group was track & field legend John Whittemore of Montecito, who turned 104 on Nov. 20. Whittemore — a life-long resident who competed as recently as 18 months ago and still holds five world masters records — said he started competing in both track and baseball at Santa Barbara High. He offered this life advice: “It’s easier to keep out of trouble than get out of trouble.”

Also sharing sage advice was 92-year-old Elizabeth Johnson, who gave “enjoy life and have a great sense of humor” as her secret to a long life. Johnson, one of the first female comedy writers during the golden age of radio, certainly knows a lot about humor. “I wrote for Bergen and McCarthy and W.C. Fields and Judy Garland and Lucille Ball,” she said. Recently married to family friend Harry Johnson, whom she’s known for 50 years, Elizabeth beamed, “Harry’s always had a great sense of humor. We have a lot of fun together,” she said of her younger husband, who is only 87.

Host Larry Crandell introduced and joked with the attendees who had reached the century mark, including Whittemore; Tillie Ackerman, whose brother Rich was there but “he’s only 97”; Mary Hill; Frances Stewart; Emily Thies; Elizabeth Curtis and Leslie Gray.

Las Positas Park (now Elings Park) Founder Jerry Harwin was among the 90+ members tearing up the dance floor to the tunes of the Jerry Dokken Band. “Next year we’ll have to have a bigger dance floor,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum. Other entertainment included a sing-along and a number by the Razzle Dazzle Silver Follies Dancers, a dance group of over-50 ex-professionals, founded earlier this year by Glory Lamb.

As they trooped out of the dining room, full from a gourmet meal, the seniors were handed birthday gift bags made by local Girl Scouts and filled with handmade gifts and books of local history for them to enjoy.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on November 27, 2003.

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