My friend and I were saying last week that 60 is the age to dread. That's how old our grandparents were when we were young, and we always saw them as ancient.
We obviously need to spend more time with Catherine Ledford Duff of Lexington and Alexander (Al) Feher of Lynch. Duff told me she is "1011/2." Feher is 85. They look back on 60 as a part of their youth.
Duff and Feher, along with five other Kentuckians who have aged gracefully, will be honored at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation's 23rd annual dinner tonight at the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort.
And rightfully so.
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Duff was born on a farm in Mt. Sterling and moved to Lexington when she was 17 to take secretarial courses at Fugazzi Business College.
She never became a secretary, though, because those choice jobs were "scarce" in the late 1920s, she said.
Instead, she married, worked in retail, reared two sons and found time to volunteer as a nurse's aide three days a week during World War II. When her boys were 7 and 11, she said, she returned to work and soon became a buyer and bridal consultant at Wolf Wiles.
Her neighbors nominated her for the 2009 Dr. David R. Wekstein Centenarian Award because she is still independent, still has a zest for life. Duff gave up her driver's license last November, but only because her insurance rates had increased $200 a year.
"I wasn't going to pay that," she said last week.
During the ice storm last winter, when most of Kentucky was covered in ice, Duff remained in her home for five days without electricity. She wouldn't hear of leaving.
"I didn't get cold," she said. "I had the gas logs in the living room. I cooked oatmeal and warmed up food. I had candles and flashlights when it got dark. I was fine."
During the 2003 ice storm, she stayed in her home seven days without electricity.
Duff said she thinks we are now too reliant on organizations and agencies for help when we can help ourselves or our neighbors who are in need.
Feher seems to think that as well.
On his daily 1-mile walks, Feher carries a large bag and a stick with a nail protruding from one end, and he picks up any trash he sees around Lynch. Why wait for others to do it?
Born in Manhattan, N.Y., Feher enlisted in the Army in 1943 and served in Europe.
When he returned to the States, he earned a degree in education, and in 1957 he moved to Lynch, where he worked for U.S. Steel until 1986.
He has been a police judge, a city councilman and a commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post for several terms. He was well known as the announcer for Lynch High School football games for many years.
Feher, whose parents migrated from Hungary, also has written two books: Escape from Hungary, written three years ago, and Ellis Island to Lynch, Ky., written six months ago. And now that his beloved city is in a deep financial bind, Feher has organized the City of Lynch Golf Classic on Oct. 10 to help raise money. It will be in conjunction with the city's Coal Miners Day.
"I'm the chairman of the tournament," Feher said. "I came up with the idea. We're hoping to get some good money."
Why not just rest at 85?
"I am a Virgo," Feher said of his astrological sign. "I can't sit still. Virgos usually take over; they want it done right. I am a pest, a pain in the neck, but things get done."
Three of this year's Sanders-Brown honorees — Pearl Greer, 101, of Glasgow; Hazel M. Dillon, 100, of Maysville; and Duff — will receive the 2009 Dr. David R. Wekstein Centenarian Award, named for the former associate director of the Sanders-Brown Center, who also was a UK physiology and biophysics professor emeritus. Wekstein initiated the nationally recognized Biologically Resilient Adults in Neurological Studies, an extensive research collection of brain tissue.
The four other honorees — Maurae Hunley Foster of Glasgow, who died Aug. 12 at age 86; Joseph Elias Isaac, 83, of Lexington; Effie Kemp, 82, of Murray; and Feher — will receive the 2009 William R. Markesbery Senior Star Award, named for the director of the Sanders-Brown center who is widely respected for his Alzheimer's disease research.
Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, sponsor of the Alltech FEI world Equestrian Games, will be the guest speaker.
A few tickets for the dinner are available for $150. Call (859) 323-5374.