By Nicole Hennessy
Mae Chandler survived 16 presidents, two world wars and the Great Depression.
The year she was born – 1913 – the federal government began collecting income taxes for the first time, and the Titanic had just sunk a year before.
Also, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe and 9-year-old Salvador Dali were painting, and, trying to survive as a watercolorist, so was Adolph Hitler.
Wednesday, Chandler, who’s now 99, sat in the North Olmsted Senior Center for an annual celebration of residents 90 and over.
Picking at her lunch, she recalled her lifelong career as a registered nurse, pins denoting professional achievement decorating the lapel of her homemade plaid suit, her pale blue eyes searching an anonymous distance.
Oldest Person in the Room
Chandler moved to North Olmsted in 1969. Listing hospitals she worked at, including MetroHealth and St. John Westshore, she spanned almost 30 years of her life in just a moment of recollection, leading her to a trip she and her cousin took “around the world,” which lasted 30 days and caused her to lose a job at a nursing home due to her absence from work.
At a table in the back, she waited as Mayor Kevin Kennedy handed out certificates to men and women separated into categories by age, Chandler being the oldest person in the room.
As Kennedy shook hands and posed for pictures with residents, Flower the Clown moved from table to table, contorting balloon ladybugs, dolphins, frogs and monkeys into existence.
Handing the creatures to smiling people, he flashed his painted grin back at them.
Then, finally, he reached Chandler’s table.
“I don’t want a balloon,” she told him. Still, moments later, a balloon fruit basket was placed in front of her.
Near the door, three children chased each other. Edging toward the 80-degree day outside, they laughed, holding giant balloon flowers.
Thousands of stories
The whole point of these lunches is to honor older Americans and the value of their accomplishments and stories.
There are hundreds of stories at each table; some told with little provocation, some still healing wounds.
When Mayor Kennedy handed Chandler her certificate, and congratulated her, it was not just her past that is being honored.
Each baby born at St. John goes home with a hat — a hat that Chandler knits. Also, at St. Augustine Health Campus in Cleveland, she volunteers in the gift shop once a week.
She lives alone and maintains her home, going as far as to shovel snow. But things deemed as showing independence, as far as senior citizens are concerned, are just part of day to day life for Chandler. In fact, she worries how she will get around if she were to lose her driver’s license.
“Thank you,” she told Kennedy, accepting the certificate. Saying nothing more, she got her lunch wrapped up to go, and waited for her neighbor to leave.