David Lauderdale

Want to live to be 100? Stay active in mind and body

Lillian Courtwright of Indigo Pines will turn 100 on Tuesday.

When she was 99, her doctor said she could use a pacemaker. When asked if that was a good idea for a 99-year-old, the doctor responded: "Do you enjoy living?"

To which Lillian said: "You bet . . . I do. I'm going to Las Vegas for my 100th birthday."

Opal Prater of TidePointe will turn 100 on Feb. 11.

She is a Wii bowling champion, with scores as high as 231. She does water aerobics, fills in at the bridge table and still drives.

Hazel Burger of Sun City Hilton Head celebrated her 100th birthday Jan. 9, when 600 people came to Pinckney Hall for the party. She plays competitive tennis, line dances, sings karaoke, drives her Volvo and has a significant other who takes her ballroom dancing.

None of them claim to have the secret to a long and fulfilling life.

But they share traits that should be instructive to a state that is rapidly graying.

By the numbers, South Carolina's population of those 60 and older grew by 128 percent from 1970 to 2000. By 2030, it is expected to increase by another 123 percent, to about 1.5 million people.

In 1900, only 3 percent of the state population was 65 or older. By 2030, it is expected to be 22 percent.

That trend will strain government services and personal budgets.

The three local women show how to stay active in body and mind. They have positive attitudes. And while they remain independent, they have family and friends living nearby.

"Keep active. Keep the mind going. Keep the body going," is how Lillian Courtwright's son, Bill Courtwright of Hilton Head Plantation, summarizes his mother's secret.

Lillian's favorite activity these days is balloon volleyball, in which competitors are seated as they play. She plays on the Indigo Pines team. They compete against a team from a housing facility for the elderly in Savannah. They even have home and away jerseys.

She plays Scrabble. She prepares her own dinner. She exercises regularly, something she's done all her life. She's still 5 feet tall and 110 pounds.

Lillian grew up in the Tacony neighborhood of Philadelphia, where her parents were German immigrants. She lost her husband in 1962, then took over his business, an automotive parts warehouse distributorship. She excelled in that traditionally male world, then retired to Florida.

Now she has moved closer to her son. Besides being treated to a trip to Las Vegas in October, she was surrounded by her family for dinner at the S.C. Yacht Club, and they'll have a party for her at Indigo Pines on her birthday.

Opal Prater and her late husband, John H. Prater, were the first couple to celebrate their 75th anniversary at TidePointe on Hilton Head Island. As she approaches her 100th birthday, she's still trying to adjust to life without him. He died last June. He would have been 100 in December.

"It's different living alone," she said.

She was a great supporter of her husband, a school superintendent in Maywood and LaGrange, Ill., who co-wrote a school textbook, "Exploring Illinois," and was an Abraham Lincoln scholar. She raised three children, then worked in a bank. They retired to Tucson, Ariz. She walked three miles every morning.

They moved to Sun City Hilton Head in 1999 to be close to her daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Jim Grove of Colleton River Plantation. About six years ago, they moved to TidePointe, where all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will celebrate her 100th birthday Feb. 12.

Hazel Burger also exercises, keeps her mind active, remains independent and has family living nearby.

As these three women kick up their heels on their 100th birthdays, they seem to have a subtle message for the rest of the aging state: If you want life to be a marathon, you'd better sprint.