“The birthday is just another day,” Agnes Fenton whispered, pooh-poohing the milestone she reaches Saturday. Fenton, who has a lovely face, celebrated No. 110.
And just like that, the beloved Englewood resident — who has extolled the wonders of Miller High Life and Johnnie Walker — punched her ticket into the ultra-exclusive “supercentenarian” club.
Of the 7 billion people on the planet, a microscopic number are 110 or older. Robert Young, director of the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of supercentenarians, estimates 600. Dr. Thomas Perls, founding director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University School of Medicine, of which Fenton is a participant, puts the number at 360.
That means roughly 1 in every 10 million people in the world is a supercentenarian. Which makes Agnes Fenton special. Just don’t tell her that.
When a reporter visited her in the run-up to the big birthday, Fenton answered “lousy” when asked how she felt. But she warmed to the conversation and emphasized that God is the reason she’s lived this long.
“When I was 100 years old, I went to the mirror to thank God that I was still here. And I thank him every morning,” she said in a voice one must strain to hear. She sat in a wheelchair at the kitchen table in her green-shingled, Cape Cod-style home near Route 4.
“He gave me a long life and a good life, and I have nothing to complain about. … You’ve got to have God in your life. Without God, you’ve got nothing.”
Agnes Fenton was born Agnes Jones on Aug. 1, 1905, in Holly Springs, Miss. She spent her early years in Memphis and ran a restaurant there called Pal’s Duck Inn. Fenton, who has no children, came north to Englewood in the 1950s with her second husband, Vincent Fenton. She worked as a cafeteria manager for a magazine publisher, then as a nanny. Her husband, whom she called “Fenton,” died in 1970.
Nurses stay with Agnes Fenton around the clock. Neighbors and firefighters check on her, as does 66-year-old Lamont Saunders of Teaneck, who has known Fenton his entire life and calls her “Aunt Aggie.” Fenton was a dear friend of Saunders’ late mother, and from Aunt Aggie, Saunders said he has learned “honesty and being true to yourself.”
Fenton, whose eyesight and hearing are intact, reads The Record daily and listens to news on the radio. She enjoys visits from fellow parishioners of St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Harlem. She says her prayers. She sleeps a lot.
Since becoming a centenarian, Fenton’s been quite the Englewood celebrity. She’s received government proclamations, and birthday greetings from President Obama and Governor Christie. NVE Bank tossed its longtime customer a 107th birthday in conjunction with its own 125th anniversary celebration. Englewood has proclaimed Saturday “Agnes Fenton Day.” The city’s first Agnes Fenton Day was 10 years ago.
Just before her 105th birthday, Fenton was introduced to the nation. In an ABC World News report on the secrets to a long life, Fenton admitted that she had enjoyed beer and a whiskey every day for decades.
She told ABC that her only serious health problem was a long-ago benign tumor and that the doctor discharged her with one word of advice.
“He said, ‘Agnes, you must drink three Miller High Lifes a day.’ ”
“So Aggie’s enjoyed three beers and a shot of scotch every day for almost 70 years,” the ABC correspondent marveled.
Fenton prefers Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the top-shelf stuff. “Each of our centenarians has their different secrets,” said Stacy Andersen, a project manager with the New England Centenarian Study. “If Agnes feels hers is alcohol, maybe it is, but certainly we don’t find that to be consistent across all our centenarians.”
Fenton has been enrolled in the genetic study for five years. Researchers communicate with her and her caregivers by telephone and written questionnaire.
Unfortunately for Fenton, the daily booze is now history. Because she eats little now (her favorite foods are chicken wings, green beans and sweet potatoes), the caregivers do not want her to have alcohol.
Researchers say centenarians typically show such characteristics as a steady routine and avoidance of stress. Family history plays a big part, too. Dr. Kenneth Wasserman, Fenton’s personal physician for close to 20 years, can’t explain her astonishing longevity.
Declining to go into details, he said: “The few things she’s had wrong with her have disappeared in ways they should not have. Her health has been phenomenal. … She’s completely, thoroughly amazing.”
article by Jay Levin via northjersey.com