When you turn 100 years old, everybody asks you what the secret is to your longevity. Clara Belle Lawson has had plenty of practice with that particular question, as the birthday she celebrated on Sunday, January 22 was her 105th.
Lawson celebrated as she has every year for the last five, with about 120 of her friends and neighbors getting together to throw her a party at Marco Shores Estates, the community where she lives with her daughter, Betty Lord, off Manatee Road just past the Naples Outlet Shops.
Clara has five children, and they all came for the party, some from as far away as Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is remarkably youthful for someone of her age, standing erect, walking around easily, with eyesight, hearing and certainly her mental capacities undimmed.
The group gathered in the clubhouse at Marco Shores, a member-owned manufactured home community, and heard tributes and remembrances from friends and family. Daughter Shirley Krieg, from South Bend, Indiana, the family home, could barely get through her brief remarks, overcome by emotion.
“When we were little, we never had a lot, but everyone else was in the same shape,” she remembered. “We had a lot of love.”
Lawson’s son Robert “Bobby” Lawson, the baby of the family at 71, said he had done the math, and Clarabelle was 38,251 days old. In addition to “Happy Birthday,” the group sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” a personal favorite, to Clara. Neighbor Johnny DeLorenzo, acting as master of ceremonies, read a proclamation from Governor Rick Scott honoring Lawson.
When all the kids, who are in their seventies and eighties, and still all with us, had had their say, Clara took a turn at the mic.
“They say older people can’t tell you what yesterday was, but I’ve been blessed with a good memory and good legs,” she said, and proceeded to recount some of her memories from nearly a century ago. “I was a farmer’s wife,” she said, and told of canning – “does anyone here remember ‘cold pack?’ she asked – hundreds of containers of vegetables and fruits to get through the winter.
She recited the first lesson she was taught by a professor brought in by her father to teach her elocution – “not electrocution,” she clarified, and greeted her friends by name, showing a lively curiosity. She invited a reporter to “come and visit any time,” offered him the piece of cake that was supposed to go to her, and made sure he had his iced tea before leaving.
“Isn’t she amazing?” said neighbor Carol Allio.
Clara’s secret for a long, healthy life? Simple, she said.
“No medication and no doctors,” she said. “There’s two things that will kill you – a doctor and a rocking chair.” She has stayed out of the rocking chair and remained active. After husband died 24 years ago, she traveled to 28 foreign countries, and served as a frequent after dinner speaker for groups, she said.
Clara Lawson, in addition to her five children, has 14 grandchildren, 42 great grandchildren, and 9 great great grandchildren.
“I really admire her,” said neighbor Shirley Ann Parks, giving Clara a hug and a kiss. “My real admiration is for her success in life, having an adoring family that loves her and wants to celebrate every year.”