If the thought of living to be 100 conjures up images of wheelchairs, illnesses and despair, chances are you won't care if you never reach the century mark.
But if you look forward to living to a ripe old age -- despite life's adversities -- you are likely to fit in with the 300 members of the Centenarian Club, a 1 -year-old non-profit organization that promotes health, longevity and the pursuit of happiness. The club was initiated by two 42-year-old licensed practical social workers -- Suzanne Ricklin and Tamara Lubliner.
Ricklin says the group doesn't advise people to aim at 100. "Rather, we want to help people enhance their own existence, to develop better problem-solving skills and to be able to know that they have the resilience to deal with whatever happens," Ricklin said.
That's why potential members can be babies, baby-boomers, fifty-something or one hundred-something. Centenarians are automatically given free club membership.
The rest pay membership contributions, ranging from $25 for a Lifetime Individual Membership to $300 for a Lifetime Family Charter.
They receive a certificate and a membership card that says: "Each day I am taking responsibility for maintaining my body and mind in good health. I am maximizing my potential and living to be a vital 100 years of age."
The front of the card shows the member's name and the date on which he or she will be 100-years old.
"I look forward to the year 2048 when I will be 100," said Ricklin.
"People will project their own death saying things like, 'I may die of cancer like my mother' or 'Because I take unnecessary chances, I'll probably die in an auto crash.' "But they rarely see on paper something as positive and forward thinking as a written 100-year projection of their life. . . . It can alter the way people view the future," Ricklin said.
Their idea ignited last February during an AIDS conference the duo was attending in Washington, D.C.
Among the speakers was renowned surgeon Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of "Love, Medicine and Miracles." Siegel told the group, which included about 100 AIDS patients, that it would be wonderful if people would come together to affirm something positive -- like living to be 100.
He said support usually is limited to when someone is suffering the an illnesses or trauma.
It was "like someone sprinkling fairy dust," Ricklin said of the ideas that suddenly sprang inside her.
She sat in the seminar and found herself writing the words, "century" and "100."
She and Lubliner had incorporated their practice a week earlier, called Century Mental Health after Century Plaza, where they have offices.
The two women started jotting down notes excitedly about the possibility of an organization that would celebrate life but give cash to organizations that provide direct services to dying AIDS patients.
Later, after the organization was established, they decided to donate half the money for direct services to the elderly as well.
Already, the group has grown faster than the women anticipated.
Today, much to the surprise of the founders, the organization's advisory board includes such distinguished members as Siegel and Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
Willard Scott, the NBC-TV weather forecaster who announces the birthdays of centenarians on the air, is honorary national chairman.
"Ask and you shall get," laughed Ricklin. Lawyers donated their time to help with forming the club; a graphic artist volunteered to design the logo; a printer donated his time for the stationery; and a calligrapher designed the wording for the certificates.
A stash of personal letters from Ross and Siegel -- both mentors of the social workers -- in which they happily agreed to be on the board of advisers, have special significance to the women.
Willard Scott returned his favorable reply -- just when the women had given up hope on receiving it -- six months later. It had been beneath a pile of other letters that had accumulated on Scott's desk.
There was no stopping the women after that. When they found out that 96-year-old comedian George Burns would be in Baltimore, they made some phone calls that ultimately led to an invitation to meet him.
"I took my 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and he told her, 'You're much too old for me,' " Ricklin said. "He is totally in charge of what he does.
He's funny, witty and delightful. He danced around on the stage and my daughter loved him."
Burns' advice to Ricklin -- "try to tell people to be in love with what they do and to enjoy every day."
Ever since the club was formed, one thing has led to another.
The women described one fruitful visit to New York two years after Lubliner saw a promotion on the CBS-TV program "West 57th Street" for a future broadcast about centenarians. When Ricklin called the show's producer, she was given the name of Raphael Cordero, executive director of the American Centenarian Committee.
That organization grants birthday wishes to people approaching 100.