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Published: Monday, 1/28/2013

Centenarian’s mettle shines through

Impaired sight, hearing fail to dampen spirit

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
On the occasion of her 100th birthday observance Wednesday, Emma Bonawitt blows out the candles on her centennial celebration cake with friends and family at Senior Star at West Park Place in Toledo. She credits her longevity partially to not smoking. Friends and family say it’s because she’s humble. On the occasion of her 100th birthday observance Wednesday, Emma Bonawitt blows out the candles on her centennial celebration cake with friends and family at Senior Star at West Park Place in Toledo. She credits her longevity partially to not smoking. Friends and family say it’s because she’s humble.
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The ability to spring back from life’s challenges and troubles is just one of the special things about lifelong Toledo resident Emma Bonawitt, said her nephew, Ross DeKeyser of Adrian.

Mr. DeKeyser was in town Wednesday to celebrate the 100th birthday of his aunt, who lives at Senior Star at West Park Place in Toledo.

Ms. Bonawitt has been blinded by macular degeneration but has adapted her life around the ailment. She is also hearing impaired.

“She’s learned to live,” Mr. DeKeyser said about her impairments. He cited her memory as impeccable. “She can remember things,” he said, adding that she remembered his Social Security number when the two were filling out paperwork weeks ago.

As he retold the story of her past, her nephew said she has lived a simple life. Ms. Bonawitt and her husband, the late John Franklin Bonawitt, lived in Toledo. She was an accomplished seamstress. Together, they had many mutual interests, including playing cards with family and neighbors, and watching the Toledo Mud Hens.

“I think she still listens to them,” Mr. DeKeyser said. “She listens to the radio.”

Dressed in a pink jacket and black pants, Ms. Bonawitt appeared in the community hall at Senior Star, and greeted some of her visitors with tears.

“She’s just as sweet as can be,” said her niece, Marlene Black, from Iron Mountain in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. “She is just remarkable.”

After Ms. Bonawitt was hugged by family and friends, she sat down to a full room of party guests, next to her nieces, Ms. Black and Candace Hannah, from West Bloomfield, Mich.

Carol Nadaud, program director at Senior Star, presented Ms. Bonawitt with an award from the Area Office on Aging, congratulating her on making it to 100. She then gave Ms. Bonawitt a crown to wear, while she blew out the candles on her birthday cake.

The cake, both chocolate and vanilla-flavored, was decorated with red and green icing.

As entertainer Mitch Kahl began to sing the Frank Sinatra standard “Young at Heart,” the cake was sliced. But after wrapping up the song, Mr. Kahl asked Ms. Bonawitt about her secret to living so long. Her answers included “not smoking.”

Ms. Bonawitt’s humble attitude is another asset, Ms. Nadaud said.

“She doesn’t brag about herself or anything,” she said. Senior Star has three residents who are centenarians.

But by the time Mr. Kahl started performing Otis Redding’s classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” another Senior Star male resident approached Ms. Bonawitt and handed her a bottle of wine.

When asked if they were friends, he simply said it was his first time meeting the woman, but he still seemed to think she deserved the bottle.

The giving gesture seemed to echo the life she has lived with the other residents.

“She is kind,” niece Candace Hannah said. “She’s just a wonderful person.”



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