In 2001, Lillian Nelsen Anderson, then 90, wrote in a letter for a time capsule at her granddaughter's wedding that she wanted to wish the newlyweds well because she figured she wouldn't be around to celebrate the opening of the capsule on the couple's 10th anniversary.

This past August marked her granddaughter's 10-year anniversary, and Anderson proved even herself wrong.

"I never thought I'd make 100," said Anderson, who lives in the same Hicksville home she and her late husband built in 1939. "How many people do?"

According to government statistics, quite a few more now than in the last century. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that as of December 2010 there were nearly 72,000 Americans -- almost 62,000 of them women -- who were 100 or older.

In 1990, about one out of every 10,000 Americans was a centenarian. The United States and Japan have the highest concentrations of centenarians, due largely to diet and medical advances. In the United States, most centenarians reside in California and New York State.


advertisement | advertise on newsday

An active lifestyle
Not only has Anderson made it to 100, she's done it by maintaining an active lifestyle that many who are years younger would envy. She took up golf at age 75, drove and lived on her own without assistance until age 96, and until last year handled her finances and taxes on her own.

Her pace has slowed in the past four years, but she plays cards with friends at her home twice a month, attends monthly luncheons with a hospital charity group, gets her hair and nails done regularly and is actively involved in family affairs.

On Sept. 10, she celebrated her 100th birthday at La Marmite restaurant in Williston Park with about 70 family members and friends.

"It was wonderful that so many people were there," said Anderson, noting that age hasn't prevented her from living life to the fullest. "I never stop to think about age. I don't feel 100."

Though she had to use a wheelchair for about 10 weeks earlier this year, for the most part Anderson is relatively healthy for a centenarian.


"She's like the Energizer bunny," said her oldest child, John Anderson, 69, of Hollywood, S.C. "She does very good," adds her live-in-aide, Teddy Severe.

Anderson has congestive heart failure and last year spent time in a hospital and rehabilitation for complications related to it, but she was determined to return home, said daughter Joyce Merzbacher, 61, of Farmingdale.

"I've never wanted to live anywhere else," said Anderson, noting that living with her three children was never an option in her mind. "They have their own life to live."

Though Anderson said Long Island has changed a lot over the decades -- "the potato fields have disappeared," she notes -- she wouldn't trade it for another ZIP code.

"It's gotten a lot more crowded, and there are more malls," she adds. "I think it's still a good place to live."

advertisement | advertise on newsday


Staying positive
Anderson's independence and positive attitude are an inspiration to those who know her.

"There are many negative things that come with old age, but my grandmother seems to turn them into positives," grandson Mark Merzbacher, now 30, wrote in a college essay about whom he admired most.

And she's done that her whole life.

Anderson, whose parents were Norwegian immigrants, was born in Brooklyn. She was the fourth of six children, all of whom are deceased, and grew up poor. The family moved to Hicksville when she was 10.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Anderson left school at 14 to help support the family. She worked in her father's wallpaper store for several months before following in her older sister's footsteps and enrolling in stenography courses at Drake's Business School in Queens. She was a stenographer in East Williston and later at Women's Wear Daily in Manhattan for almost 13 years.

It was on her train commute to Drake's that she met her husband, Francis "Andy" Anderson, who was a title searcher at a company in Jamaica, Queens.

They married in 1936, and she worked up until the birth of their first child in 1941. Her husband was Nassau County clerk in the 1960s and then worked in the banking industry. Anderson returned to work in 1965 as an executive secretary for the Town of Oyster Bay, retiring from that job in 1975.

And that's when she became even more active and continues to be so today, relatives marvel.

"She has a more active social life then I do," quipped John Anderson, 42, of Fairfax, Va., the oldest of seven grandchildren.

Anderson started bowling when she was 65, and 10 years later, when the Mercy League, a charitable organization that raises money for Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, formed a women's golf league, she became an inaugural member, her daughter said.

"My father encouraged her," Merzbacher noted. "He was a terrific golfer."

Anderson continued playing after her husband died in 1988 and traveled with the league into her late 90s, said her son, Bill Anderson, 66, of Bellport.

"You have to go on living," said Anderson, who at 90 was the oldest volunteer at the U.S. Open in Bethpage in 2002.


Cutting back
She no longer golfs or bowls, and only stopped traveling in January 2010.

"She's an inspiration," said longtime friend Jeanette Sadowski, 87, of Jericho, who plays cards with Anderson.

Anderson is beloved by her grandchildren and their children, too. Granddaughter Kristina Hilton, 33, of Farmingdale, who got the time capsule letter, visits Anderson weekly with her four children. Said her son, Andrew, 7, of his great-grandmother: "I hope she lives even longer."

Anderson said she's grateful she lived long enough to meet her 10 great-grandchildren, but with age comes some problems. She said she doesn't feel 100, but her body reminds her of it every day. "Your body gets weaker," said Anderson, who now uses a walker. "My legs went, so it's harder to move around."

But being a centenarian has its benefits. "People treat you with respect," Anderson said. "They're more nice."