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Annual party for 90-and-up seniors never gets old

At 104, Virginia Davis was the most senior at Monday's Legacy Luncheon sponsored by the city of Los Angeles. She's been attending since she was a young thing of 94.

November 15, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Virginia Davis, 104, left, and Paul Cooks, 103, are crowned queen and king as the oldest guests at Monday's "Legacy Luncheon," the annual party for seniors 90 or older sponsored by the city of Los Angeles. Davis has been attending the event since she was a young thing of 94.
Virginia Davis, 104, left, and Paul Cooks, 103, are crowned queen and king… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

It wasn't the live music or the speeches from local lawmakers that made the party special. And although the performance may go down in local lore, it also wasn't the Elvis Presley impersonation by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

It was the guest list.

At Monday's Legacy Luncheon hosted by the city of Los Angeles, every celebrant was 90 or older.

Several hundred people packed into an auditorium near Griffith Park, where the collective age of partygoers was around 27,000. At 104, Virginia Davis was the most senior. She sat at a table with several other centenarians, wearing a red crown that went nicely with her sweater. To her left sat a new acquaintance, 102-year-old Sallie Craigen. The two hit it off splendidly.

Every year the city's Department of Recreation and Parks throws a birthday bash for its oldest residents. Davis has been attending since she was a young thing of 94. "I always look forward to it," she said.

It's tough, when in the company of people who are very old and seem very happy, to avoid posing that cliche question: "What's your secret?"

Craigen, who lives in South Los Angeles, didn't mind answering.

"I always eat breakfast — toast, fruit and coffee," she said. "And church," she continued. "I go to church and everything feels all right."

Lenora Spiegel, 91, who was at another table with her husband, Jacob, 94, and their 69-year-old daughter, said longevity isn't simply a matter of diet and exercise.

"People say to me, 'Oh, you must drink a lot of water,' " she said. "But no, I drink pop all the time!"

The Spiegels were married 72 years ago in the backyard of her mother's house. Lenora's wedding dress and flowers cost a total of $55.

When lunch was served, Jacob leaned over and — without a word — scraped all of his green beans onto his wife's plate. "He never liked his vegetables," she said.

The couple met in the bleachers at a football game between John Marshall High School and Roosevelt High School. At least, that's her version of the story. He maintains that they met at a school dance.

Lenora said she feels lucky to still have her husband. Many of her friends have lost theirs. At her senior center in the San Fernando Valley, she said, women outnumber men.

The same was true at Monday's party. But it seemed to work in LaBonge's favor.

When the ebullient councilman took the microphone and sang the first line of Presley's "If I Can Dream," all eyes swiveled his way.

He skipped from table to table, stopping to croon at several of the women. When he reached Guinevere Flavien's table, he lingered.

"This is my girlfriend right here!" he yelled as he bent down to embrace 98-year-old Flavien, who was seated in a wheelchair.

Flavien, a political junkie who watches City Council meetings on the L.A. city cable channel, was amused. She's been calling LaBonge her "boyfriend" ever since he first struck up the "girlfriend" routine at a legacy luncheon a few years back.

"And now look at me," she said. "I'm a year and a half from being 100. Time goes fast. Sometimes I want to get on a horse and catch up to it. All I can say is, 'Enjoy the journey.' "

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