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Blueprint of Long Life: Walks, Yogurt and Sleep : Centenarians: Eleven who have celebrated their 100th birthday are honored. For many, age has not dulled their spunk.

May 21, 1990|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than a century on Earth, you can be excused for detecting a certain monotony about life.

At a luncheon Sunday honoring local centenarians, Dwight Chenault was asked for some words of wisdom. What thoughts did he have about the days of his life?

"They come and they go," said Chenault, 100, a retired architect who walks with a cane. "None of them stay with me."

Chenault was one of 11 honorees at the luncheon, sponsored by the Burbank-based American Centenarian Committee. Most continue to be intrigued by the pageant unfolding before their eyes. And even the puckish Chenault is staying pretty busy.

A fellow of the Society of American Registered Architects, Chenault is going to attend the society's annual conference in Boston in November. Last December, he planned his own 100th birthday party, with 300 guests at a church in Eagle Rock.

"He wouldn't trust anybody else to do it," said his daughter, Rose Quinn.

The secret of his longevity? "I eat when I can get it, sleep all the time," Chenault said, his eyes glinting with mischievous humor. "I don't bother work that don't bother me. . . . Actually, I've worked hard all my life."

There's no explaining longevity, said Raphael Cordero, chairman of the volunteer committee. But one fact is indisputable: The long-lived are with us in greater numbers than ever. And in percentage terms, centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the population, with the current total of 54,000 century-old or older Americans expected to increase to 108,000 by the the year 2000, according to the National Institute on Aging.

"It's medical science, it's technology," said Cordero, 38, who founded the committee to honor and assist the centenarians, as well as get them together for social occasions.

He added, "They come from a simpler generation," one less susceptible to stress.

And they do things like eat yogurt and take daily walks.

Setrak Boyajian, 106, a former rug salesman and dry cleaner from Hollywood, still eats a quart of yogurt a day, made with his own hands using the same yogurt culture he brought to Los Angeles 60 years ago. "It gives you more sleep," says Boyajian, a stooped man with a forceful handshake. "Nice. It cleans your body."

Until he was 95, Boyajian walked a rigorous five miles a day. Now he's down to about two blocks. But he still plays backgammon every day and keeps abreast of the news. "There are no more morals," says Boyajian, who was born in Turkey and came to America in 1906. "There are dirty things all over."

Sam Kline, 101, is another walker, covering as much as 10 miles daily around his home in Los Angeles' Melrose area. "It's the main thing," said Kline, who stepped away from the luncheon to stroll vigorously through the garden of the Sheraton Universal Hotel.

For New Orleans-born Edward Johnson, the secret of longevity is Christian charity. "It's loving people who lived on Skid Row," said Johnson, 100, who once painted the homes of stars like George Raft. "When I go to bed, I worry about people sleeping on the street while I'm in a warm bed."

He said relatives often chided him for giving money to down-and-outers. "They said, 'They're making a fool out of you,' " Johnson said. "But it's the Lord's business."

There was little piety from the crusty Chenault, who designed homes, schools and libraries in Phoenix, where he got to know his famed colleague Frank Lloyd Wright--"a small, irascible gentleman, exceedingly self-centered."

For him, longevity is a matter of the way you run your life. "Take care of your own affairs properly," he said, "and treat people decently."

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