It is not every day that you turn 100 years old. On Monday, Elsie Garretson and Camilla Jewett shared this distinct honor and basked in their centinarian birthday glows at a celebratory tea hosted by the Ladies Village Improvement Society.
Both women have been members of the L.V.I.S. for years — Ms. Garretson joined in 1969, while Ms. Jewett began her tenure in 1942. About 70 women attended, including Alice Ham, 103, to offer words of praise and admiration to their L.V.I.S. cohorts.
Nancy Andrews, president of L.V.I.S., said that when she spoke with Ms. Garretson’s daughter Susan Winkler of Springs about the party, she was not sure if her mother would be up for it. Ms. Andrews suggested that they just send red roses instead, but Ms. Garretson was not having any of that. “Forget the roses, I would rather come to the party,” she said.
At the party, as the birthday ladies sat in chairs by a flower-covered mantel, Ms. Andrews spoke about both women’s years of service to the L.V.I.S.
“Elsie has a love of books, and she was attracted to the book department. She loved talking to people and could befriend anyone, from young children to the famous. She worked until she was 96, and we miss you,” Ms. Andrews said. “Cam started in books, then clothing, and made her way to dishes. She worked the hot dog booth at her first L.V.I.S. fair and called it, ‘the hottest day on earth.’ . . . She is still working today, and she greeted everyone this year at the fair with a big smile.”
Jen Winkler, one of Ms. Garretson’s granddaughters, talked at the party about her grandmother’s longevity. “She told me her secret was to never hold a grudge, and I try to walk in her footsteps.” Ms. Winkler said her grandmother always kept sharp by doing crosswords, and she watches “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” And, she said, she drove and lived alone until she was 97. “She was always busy, always engaged. You never knew what was going to happen next.”
Ms. Garretson’s spontaneity blends well with her amiable disposition. “She’s an absolute pleasure to work with, she makes it easy,” said Rosemarie Jaggai, her caretaker. “I’ve never heard her put anybody down.”
Tall, elegant, and filled with spunk, Ms. Jewett held court and absorbed the attention at Monday’s party with dignity. “She’s one of the smartest and chicest people in East Hampton,” said Mardie Gorman, a close friend and member of L.V.I.S. Unassuming, Ms. Jewett fawned over how sharp another woman’s outfit was and seemed to want to share the moment with others. “You are our guiding light,” Beverly Deicher, an L.V.I.S. member, told her.
Ms. Jewett still lives alone, and is active in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and in East Hampton Village, where she has lived across the street from Town Pond for more than 60 years. “You have been a Rock of Gibraltar for the community, and we give you the warmest of greetings, love, and admiration,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. told Ms. Jewett on Friday when he presented her with a proclamation and a photo of a mother swan with two cygnets in recognition of her role as a steward of the pond. Ready for her close-up, Ms. Jewett wore a lime-green sweater with white pants, her makeup and hair neatly done.
Aug. 30, her birthday, will be Cam Jewett Day in the village, the mayor declared.
During an interview at her house following the village board meeting, Ms. Jewett explained how she watches out for the swans on the pond. “I keep track of them, take notes on when they disappear to lay their eggs. Each year it’s quite different where they go,” she said. “If they get stuck in the ice I call. [They say] ‘Don’t worry Cam, they’ll get out,’ and they do.”
Born in Vermont, Ms. Jewett went to high school and college in Massachusetts, and took an extended course in New York City. She returned to Manhattan after college, where she eventually became the head dietician for the City of New York’s neurological hospital and home for dependents on Roosevelt Island, a position she enjoyed. After meeting her husband, who was in the service, she lived in Florida, Texas, and Washington State. They returned to Manhattan after the war, in 1946, and decided to make their home in East Hampton in the house where she still lives today.
“I’ve loved it here. It’s a beautiful place,” she said. “It’s noisy now. The changes are unbelievable, but I still like it.” She got involved with the L.V.I.S., Guild Hall, the library, the East Hampton Garden Club, and St. Luke’s Church to keep busy.
“I never thought I’d live to be this age,” Ms. Jewett said. “My father lived to his 90s. I didn’t give much thought to living that long. I thought a lot of my friends would be gone, and most are. I have a lot of young friends.” Social activities, lots of friends, and eating healthy seem to be her secret. “People say ‘You always eat right,’ and I do.” Having been a dietician, she said, “I’ve always been interested in eating well. I like to cook.” As a younger woman, Ms. Jewett used to have a cocktail with her husband at the end of the day, and friends would come over to join them if the house lights were on.
She is independent, and still cooks her own meals. “I don’t want to ever go in a nursing home,” she said. Her family has suggested it, but she resists. “I’ll go out a few times a week. I like to get out every day; everybody has to.” Her advice to other older people: “Get out with young people when you have time. Learn what’s going on in your community. You have to have friends. No one wants to live an isolated life. It’s a great idea to read to educate yourself. And nice associations, I’ve been lucky to have that all my life.”
At her house on Friday, Ms. Garretson was impeccably dressed in a light blue shirt with white pants, and had her hair coiffed and makeup done. Born in Flatbush on July 22, 1911, she grew up in Brooklyn, and lived there as a young adult.
She studied to be a schoolteacher for a year, then worked at the Brooklyn Edison Company. She played the violin in the company orchestra, the first woman to do so, and brought in friends to join her. When she was 20, she went with a friend to Sweden for a month to play the violin, while her friend accompanied her on the piano. They toured the country, performing in small towns.
Ms. Garretson married at 25, and moved to Malvern, while renting a summer place near Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. The Garretsons became year-round residents about 50 years ago.
When asked how she feels about reaching the century mark, Ms. Garretson said, “I really don’t feel any different. You just go with the years, you keep breathing and living until God says, ‘Come on Elsie, you’ve spent enough time on earth.’ ” She claims she never changed, and attributes her age to good genes. “I eat, drink, everything in moderation. A long time ago I had three to four cigarettes a day, and one day I went to get a pack and thought, ah, no more cigarettes for 75 cents a pack. Now I hear they’re $7.” Ms. Garretson no longer drinks, but said she did like a Tom Collins in the day.
In terms of advice, she offered this: “Age never bothered me. I didn’t spend that much time in the sun. I see young girls on the beach frying like they’re on a spit. You’re going to regret this.” She was not always so optimistic. “I’m a great worrier. Then I realized one day, why do you worry? Nothing comes from it. Try to take things in stride. Ride with the waves,” she said, joking that she came to this revelation just the week before.