Faculty/Staff members of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences, Youth participants of the Black Empowerment Apprenticeship Program (BEAP) and relatives of centenarians, recently participated in the 27th annual Summer Series on Aging, sponsored by the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky.They were invited by Dr. Frances Staten to participate in the session she organized which was titled “Black Centenarians and Super centenarian in the New Millennium,” and was sponsored by the University of Kentucky Ohio Valley Appalachia Regional Geriatric Center, directed by Dr. Arlene Johnson.
Dr. Staten served as a guest speaker, and was given this honor by Dr. Barbara Helm, conference coordinator.
The annual conference accords professionals the opportunity to share the current information in geriatrics and gerontology from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Dr. Staten, along with Dr. V.T. Samuel-faculty interviewer of the Longevity Project, presented a brief history of the Longevity project (1993 to the millennium) and findings via video and a power point, which allowed the session attendants to hear/ see the answers provided by the centenarians to the research question: What contributed to your life or why have you lived so long?
This approach was followed by the personal reflections of family members of centenarians regarding their perspectives on the factors influencing longevity in their families as well as lessons learned from them. Religious factors, such as church attendance, faith in God, obedience to parents, treating people right and living a Christian life, were among the responses given by the studied centenarians, as well as their relatives.
Participating relatives of centenarians included: James Roger, the grandson of Mrs. Betty Wilson (who died at the age of 115 and was the third oldest person in the United States); and Rose Kinsey, great niece of Thornton’s centenarian sisters, Maggie, Rosie and Carrie.
Maggie Thornton Renfro died January 22, 2010, at the age of 115, the fourth -oldest persons in the world; the other two siblings died December 2009.
Linda Mays Logan, the niece of Ollie Bass, lost her sight in her 20s and died at the age of 105; Logan also presented a poem as a memorial tribute to her aunt which was titled “Blind But Yet I see.”
The future direction of the centenarian research was presented by Dr. Lemmy Akoma who was accompanied by Chizitara Akoma and Xavion Rayford.
They introduced the centenarian research project of the BEAP program which involves the use of data from tombstones/grave markers/ or monuments to identify centenarians and super-centenarians buried in rural church cemeteries, and the children/Youth project of the Social Research Club- personal interviews with the children of centenarians regarding their health status.
The Longevity research group received high commendation for their presentations during the questions and answer interaction.
In a recent correspondence from Dr. Johnson to the Longevity Research Group, she noted that “Your presentations on Black Centenarians/Super-Centenarians were excellent and very well received by the participants in your session. What a joy to hear the poetry, songs and stories of the elders in your research studies!” The personal perspectives, case histories and videos that you brought to the presentation enabled us to better understand and appreciate their wonderful strength and wisdom. It was very interesting and enlightening to learn which variables they felt most contributing to their longevity and to hear about your current and future initiatives.