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Centenarian Defies Stereotypes of Aging

  • June Soh

Centenarians, people who live to be 100 years old are currently the fastest growing age group in the World. And the U.S. has more than any other country, well over 50,000. Living longer may be more common than it was, but living well and continuing a healthy, active lifestyle into the second century can be a challenge.

VOA went looking for a centenarian to talk to and met Marbel Sawhill born in 1913. She has maintained an extraordinary lifestyle and is managing to defy nearly every stereotype of aging.

On a weekday, Sawhill is busy serving at a luncheon of the Bethesda Women’s Club, one of her many loyal clients. Sawhill is 102-years-old and has been running her own catering business in the Washington area for decades.

“Over the years, Sawhill said, I have done many, many wedding receptions, church dinners, high school banquets, women’s clubs, and a lot of funerals.”

Sawhill was born in 1913 in Winterset, Iowa. After graduating from college, she taught at a high school in her home state but in 1943, during World War II, her patriotic spirit took her to Washington.

Patriotic spirit

“Everybody was doing something for the country. So I thought perhaps I should stop teaching school and do something to help during the war.” said Sawhill.

She landed an administrative job at the Department of the Navy and started catering part-time at night to help her niece and nephew, who are deaf, get special educations.

"Their mother was deaf and their father was deaf. I could pay the tuition for the school.", said Sawhill.

She turned her full attention to her catering business, after her retirement from the government in 1983

“I am a people’s person. And I knew that this was a gift that God has given me to do with my hands, Sawhill added, I could think of no better way than preparing food for people, good food so they might enjoy it.”

Sawhill takes pride in some of her signature foods like sticky buns that she started to make during World War II and has brought to almost every occasion.

She wears neither eyeglasses nor hearing aids, and says she rarely gets sick.

“Because when I am working, I am moving around all day and getting a lot of exercise. And I have to go buy groceries, I am carrying groceries, ” Sawhill explained.

100th birthday

Several hundred people came to celebrate her 100th birthday at a local church. Instead of receiving gifts, she wanted to do something for someone else.

“[I] asked that they give the money to Gallaudet College, which is the only deaf college in the United States, so that somebody could receive an education,” said Sawhill.

More than $30,000 has been raised for the scholarship fund.

Marcia Demetrovits was one of 50 people who came to the luncheon at the Bethesda Women’s Club.

“The food is fantastic. She does every time when we come here. She is an inspiration for all of us,” Demetrovits said and others agreed.

Sawhill has never been married. She says she loves being independent and has no desire to slow down.

"I have a lot of energy and I need to use it. I don’t plan to retire. When God takes me home, I will have to stop.”