Celebrating 104 years of living well

A Severna Park woman will mark another birthday tomorrow, and she'll wish for more to come


When Irene Dufton was born in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was president, World War I was in the future, and automobiles were something the average person could only dream about.

Tomorrow, Dufton will celebrate her 104th birthday with her friends at Sunrise Assisted Living in Severna Park, where she has lived since she was 98 years old.

When asked what she'll be wishing for when she blows out the candles on her birthday cake, the brown-eyed centenarian, who doesn't look a day older than 80, responded, "I'll wish for another birthday."

Dufton has a fair amount of company among Anne Arundel County centenarians.

The county Department of Aging has 30 clients who are 100 or older, said Trish McGarty, director of information technology planning at the department. The department provides such services for county seniors as transportation to medical appointments, in-home personal care, help in finding alternate living to assisted living or nursing homes, and in-home delivered meals.

"Two of the people we are serving are 105," McGarty said.

The department sees a higher proportion of very old people every year, and recently had a female client who was 108. Seeing so many adults becoming centenarians "speaks well to what we might expect for ourselves," she added.

Of the 100 residents living at Sunrise Assisted Living, Dufton is the oldest, said Kimberly Best, director of activities at Sunrise.

Dufton enjoys bingo, lunch with her Sunrise associates and her Thursday morning appointment at the beauty shop.

An independent woman who loved to drive, Dufton drove until she was 90 years old.

"I'd be driving now if they [would] let me," she said.

Perhaps that's why she's so comfortable scooting around Sunrise in her wheelchair, which she uses for convenience. When help is not nearby, she doesn't hesitate to slip out of bed or away from what she's doing and get into the motorized vehicle without assistance.

Born in the Boston suburb of West Somerville, Mass., Dufton recalls always having conveniences that many Americans from the same era did not have: electricity, running water and a family car.

Dufton said the stock market crash of 1929 came and went without much notice in her house.

Dufton's mother, Gloria Silva, lived into her 80s; her father, Anthony Silva, died at a younger age. She and her brothers, Albert and Arthur, who served in World War II, and her sister, Adeline, grew up in a home furnished with antiques.

"We had to be careful not to scratch them," she recalled.

Besides nieces and nephews and her children, Joan, Sydney Jr. and Shirley, and nine grandchildren, Dufton is the lone family survivor.

Her late husband, Sydney, was a native of England who came to America and became a professional tennis and squash player.

Dufton describes Sydney, who passed away at 87, as a handsome, tall blond with a good sense of humor, and as a good dancer. The two traveled throughout Europe, returning often to his native England.

Dufton said she loved to cook for her family. Her daughter Shirley Cook remembers with fondness the Boston cream pies her mother baked for birthdays.

Dufton looks forward to visitors. One of her favorites is Sister Maureen from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. Other favorites include the students from local schools who drop by to entertain the Sunrise residents.

When asked what her secret to longevity is, Dufton replied, "I wouldn't know."

She thought for a moment, and said, "I slept when I had to, and ate when I had to. But it's a privilege to be living this old."

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