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A Landmark 2012 for Five Centenarians
Carolina Meadows
From left: Ralph Todd, Jack Roper, Ira Vendig, Naomi Bright, and Kurt Low. Photo: Joe Mengel
From left: Ralph Todd, Jack Roper, Ira Vendig, Naomi Bright, and Kurt Low. Photo: Joe Mengel

Good genes, a healthy lifestyle, and first-rate medical care account for the 100th birthday this year for five Carolina Meadows residents. Four of the group, one woman and three men, still live independently in apartments or villas. All of the honorees are taking their landmark birthday with a sense of modest accomplishment and aplomb.

Naomi Bright is the only woman in the birthday group. In 1989 she came to Carolina Meadows and moved into a villa, adding decorative and vibrant landscape paintings of her own work. With a non-stop energy she continues to prepare her income tax returns, takes care of two tax portfolios, cooks most of her meals, works puzzles and cryptograms and was driving until age 98. As a reader of large print books, she declares that “Our Library is a godsend.”

“I move too fast,” she complains as she tends to get in the way of her cane when walking about the house. This active neo-centenarian, whose birthday is Sept. 1, stays vital because of a strong commitment to a mantra of “eat less, exercise more.” A graduate of Ohio State in nutrition, she first raised two children and then worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food researcher. While she is quick to note her good genes, she can rightly credit an active mind in an active body to discipline. “I’ve used my good genes,” she says. “I can’t imagine being idle.”

Ralph Todd celebrates the Christmas season along with his birthday on Christmas Eve. An early resident at the Meadows, he arrived in 1987 and moved with his late wife to Building Three. One of six children, he recalls the Depression when his father, like many others, was “pulled” from a good job and struggled to find another. “Sometimes,” he recalled, “we went hungry.” Ralph, who played trumpet since grade school, found jobs and helped out playing gigs at various dances. His 30-year career in the Army brought vivid memories of other lived historical events: the Normandy invasion, campaigns in Central Europe, the Korean War, preparing launching pads for the land invasion of Cuba as well as assignments in Turkey, Japan, and the Pentagon.

Upon his retirement in 1977 as a Lieutenant Colonel, he earned graduate degrees in education at UNC and taught in the Durham County Schools. He continued to play trumpet at dances and for 30 years performed in Chapel Hill local community bands until respiratory and vision problems interfered. Even so, Ralph is the trumpeter seen playing “Taps” during our Memorial Day service and despite the use of a recording to project the music sounds, his appearance as both veteran and trumpeter intones the memory of fellow servicemen who served their country to the final measure.

Jack Roper moved to CM in 1990 and now lives in the Health Center. “I’m just doing my thing,” he says casually when asked about plans for his upcoming birthday on April 26. Although confined to a wheelchair, his face is alive with recollections of a long and successful career. With an MS degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University, he went directly to work for Tennessee Eastman Company where he remained for 41 years until retirement. As a research specialist he recalls visits from the patent attorneys who came to look at the new research. “I was exhibit A,” he laughs. His research earned him an unforgettable occasion when he flew in the company plane to Rochester Eastman for a gala party honoring selected employees. “They put out the red carpet,” he recalls, for a meeting with upper echelon administrators and an opulent dining experience.

Ira Vendig turns 100 on June 5. An enthusiastic bridge player and active centenarian who moves without a cane or walker, Ira can be seen with his posture-perfect frame striding through the Club Center or walking around the campus. Ira recalls the 1929 crash when at age 17 he worked as a runner on Wall Street earning $12 a week. He got laid off twice and continued with various jobs including mathematician, salesman, in finance, and as life insurance agent. He and his brother co-founded a plastics manufacturing company that was active for 10 years. This period was interrupted by three years in the Army where he was discharged as a Second Lieutenant. After a 25-year career as a stock broker, he retired in 1984 at age 72, and in 2000 he and his late wife came to the Meadows. Although Ira stopped driving at age 98, he certainly has never stopped moving.

Kurt Low saw worrisome changes in Germany and by1936 realized it was time to leave the country. As a 20-year old he biked from Mannheim to Hamburg, where he worked as a merchant marine on ships and where in 1937 he was able to escape on a ketch headed to the Mediterranean. With six people aboard, the ketch, heavily damaged in a hurricane, landed on the English coast. He lived in England for six months until he received a permit to come to America in 1938.

His first job in America was bending aluminum tubes for chairs at 25 cents an hour. He later worked making electrical wires and cables for the government until drafted by the Army, where he served oversees as an interpreter and interrogator. Returning home, he took RCA classes in physics and electronics, then worked as an electronics engineer for IBM for 20 years until mandatory retirement in 1977 at age 65. Finally, with his late wife he moved to a villa at Carolina Meadows in 1989.

His proudest achievement was in 1941when he arranged to rescue his parents and a brother and sister-in-law from a German-controlled internment camp in Vichy, France. Kurt, who will be 100 on July 5, says his happiest memories are of his wife,Trudy. “She really made my life. It was my privilege to take care of her the last 10 years until she died.” Kurt still cooks many of his meals, reads widely, exercises on a stationary bike, and only this year stopped driving and personally cleaning his own villa.

Our five centenarians are sprightly examples of courage and spirit. We wish them all happy birthdays—- with many more to come.

By Dorothy Mahan

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