Nestled in the family home in Jamaica Plain, Señora Julia Vega waits patiently in the sitting room for a man who is coming to photograph her. There have been many milestones in her life, but today is definitely one to remember.
Upon the arrival of the gentleman and his crew, the family and their guests gather in the salon to hear stories about her, the great Puerto Rican matriarch who they lovingly call “La Mafiosa” or The Mafia Lady.
They tell of her strength and old ways, how she still washes her clothes by hand with a washboard and plunger because, as she says, washing machines don’t get the clothes clean.
Julia still cooks family meals from scratch, and she has done so for her more than 95 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for the past century.
Remarkably, she uses fresh vegetables from her garden that she toils in on good days. Proudly, she gazes upon the men as they realize they sit before a living legend.
According to the family, Señora Vega may be as old as 104 because of discrepancies on the birth certificates from the island. However, at 100 years old, she is one of nine new inductees into the 2012 Freshman Class of the Centenarian Society of Boston.
Honoring the legacies of these legendary Boston residents is Central Boston Elder Services, a local non-profit agency that provides daily in-home care services to the centenarians and supports them living independently.
The Society hopes to highlight the success of growing older in Boston and the amazing feat accomplished by these seniors. Senora Vega attributes her longevity to her faith in God and being positive. Her advice to young people?
“[They] should be careful [and] live their lives right,” she said. Don’t give anyone a reason to say anything bad about you.”
Just 20 minutes northwest of her home lives a Russian man whose smile has the ability to disarm even the most stubborn of characters.
But beware: his affinity for a good joke will have you either in uncontrollable laughter or wondering if he truly is who he claims to be.
At 100 years old, Mr. Leonid Savoyev is one of the oldest living members of the first Russian Parliament. His humble beginnings as a young cab driver in Moscow quickly became his ticket to more responsibility when his fellow cab drivers elected him to parliament to put an end to high taxes against the drivers.
Little did they know he would become one of the most influential parliamentarians in Russian history. He’s used to being the subject of noteworthy discourse; he sat proudly in his living room in Brighton with the book written about him resting on his mantle.
In all, nine elders joined the ranks of nearly 22 inductees in 2011. As each one was photographed for their induction, all confessed individual stories and reasons for their longevity in life.
Some turned down having their pictures taken because of health reasons. Yet one by one, the centenarians were thankful for the home care services that have helped them maintain their health and well-being in their homes.
Mr. Yee used to be a chef in many of Boston’s best Chinese restaurants and still eats well today. He exercises regularly by walking the local streets of his neighborhood in the South End.
Another inductee is Ruth Chavis. She is of Indian descent and quickly corrected the gentleman who spoke Spanish to her during her photo shoot.
“I am an evangelist and have been one for 50 years,” she said. “This has been my job working for the Lord.”
Living in Mission Hill, Ms. Chavis admitted that she never thought she would live this long. After getting her first driver’s license at age 80, she says that she started giving away all her belongings anticipating the Good Lord taking her home in a few years, she laughed.
Across from her sat her nieces and nephews wearing her jewelry, thankful they received their gifts ahead of schedule.
As it is now, members of the society come from neighborhoods served by Central Boston Elder Services (CBES).
“The centenarians epitomize the work of Central Boston Elder Services,” said Executive Director Catherine Hardaway. “They represent the success of our programs and services and what’s possible with the help of donations from donors for the most vulnerable. We were able to support these seniors to remain home independently with their loved ones and avoid expensive institutional care.”
CBES is one of 27 Aging Service Access Points funded by the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs. It originally started in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church in the South End and recently celebrated 38 years of connecting elders to care in the neighborhoods of Roxbury, South End, Fenway, Back Bay, Allston, Brighton, North Dorchester, North Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill.