RYE, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — At the Osborn senior living community in Rye, Louise Levy is a celebrity and an inspiration.
"I was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1910," said Levy, who will celebrate her 109th birthday on Friday. "Well I don't feel 21. I feel exceptionally well for my age."
There were 46 states in the Union when she was born and William Howard Taft was president. A picture that's since been lost showed Levy at eight years old celebrating the end of World War I.
"Holding the Cleveland Plain Dealer with the great big headline that the war was over," Levy said.
It was a simpler time. She remembers sitting next to the radio listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats.
Lynn Neidorf says her mother has led an extraordinary life and she's in remarkably good shape.
"She does everything herself. At 109, she takes care of all her bathing and showering and eating," Neidorf said. "Really the only thing I do for her is what would require a car."
Levy stays engaged and active.
"Three times a week in the mornings I go to stretch class. Mondays I go to a knitting group. We knit for a place called My Sisters Place where women who are poor can come and get stuff and then after that I go to somebody's apartment who reads to a group of us from The New York Times because I can't read the newspaper anymore," Levy said. "Tuesdays I play bridge. Wednesday is free. Wednesday I'll go to stretch class in the morning and if I don't have anything else to do I go to the movies. Fridays is bridge. I play three times a week."
Perhaps longevity is something she inherited. Her mother lived from gas lights to seeing the first man in space.
"I always feel like no one will see as much progress. She lived before cars, before electricity. She was born right after the Civil War and she died when I was in high school or just graduating from high school," Neidorf said.
Levy worked as a secretary for a long time.
"If you count the years that I worked with my husband and with the young man who bought my husband's business after my husband died I was in my nineties," she said. "Not full time, you know, two, three days a week for an hour or two until my car conked out. I enjoyed doing it... but I felt for the one or two hours I worked there it didn't pay to take a taxi back and forth. So I quit."
One thing that has not quit is her relatively good health.
"My medical doctor, whom I never see, never. She never asks to see me and I have no reason to call her," Levy said.
"If you talk to most people much younger than my mother it seems like they are always going to doctors," Neidorf said.
She did consult a hematologist at 96 and took some medication for her blood.
"One for the white cells and one for the red cells," Levy said.
"But that was many, many years ago and then she never needed it again and when she goes to him he just like 'oohs' and 'aahs' over her. He doesn't really know what to do with her. Mostly it's conversation because there's no medical statistics on anyone who's 109," Neidorf said. "So he doesn't really know what her blood pressure should be. He just kind of like shows her off to anyone who's in the office."
Hoping to discover some elixir of youth, people always ask the same question — what's your secret to a long life?
"I have orange juice, toast and coffee for breakfast which I've had all my life. I eat the same thing for lunch every single day, which is yogurt," Levy said. "I have a feeling that I started eating yogurt when I heard that that's why the Russians live to such a ripe old age because they eat a lot of the yogurt. So I have that for lunch every single day with a fruit and crackers.
And with her dinner, she'll enjoy a glass of wine.
"The doctor recommended red wine so I have a small amount every night," Levy said. "If I'm eating in the dining room with friends who drink then I order a white wine. I like Pinot Grigio."
Neidorf suspects it's some combination of factors — healthy habits, activity, social engagement and genetics.
"There is apparently new research that maybe that there's a gene that some people have — I'm not sure if it's Ashkenazi Jews or not — but that it's protective and people who have that gene seem to live long live long healthy lives," Neidorf said.
Whatever the reason whatever the secret the gift of Louise Levi's longevity is appreciated and cherished.
"It's kind of ironic that I lost my 61-year-old husband but I have my 109-year-old mother," Neidorf said.
It's a perspective that makes them savor each day together all the more.
"Makes me feel proud, makes me feel flattered, makes me feel happy," Levy said.