LINWOOD — It’s no joke. Helen Turner, of Linwood, is turning 110 on April 1.
“You never think about having any fun after you get to be 100, here I have fun every day,” Turner said at Brandywine Living at Brandall Estates. “It’s just a wonderful place to be, and of course, I’m the oldest, so they make so much fuss over me.”
At 110, the retired schoolteacher keeps busy. She plays bingo and is a prolific knitter, making more than 140 scarves for staff and friends.
On Fridays, she has a glass of white zinfandel to get her feet tapping during happy hour.
With the help of staff, Turner is active on social media now, too. Her Facebook page is “Helen Graham Turner 109 and Counting.” She spreads her slogan, “Have you hugged anybody today?” in video updates.
The page that chronicles her day-to-day life has photos of her birthday splurges, including her ride Wednesday in a 1919 Model T Ford provided by Clayton’s Self Storage.
Turner gets a lot of birthday swag.
Hershey’s Chocolate, which created the Hershey Kiss the year she was born, sends her gifts.
Other years, she received gifts from Disney, a plaque from The Plaza Hotel in New York City, where she always wanted to dance, and letters from admirers across the country.
For her 109th birthday, Neiman Marcus sent her 109 wrapped chocolate-chip cookies after Kelly Oliver, concierge at Brandywine, looked up all the significant events of 1907 and reached out to the Dallas luxury store founded that year.
For the past five years, Turner said, staff has helped throw her a party. This year, her family, including her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be in town to celebrate.
“She’s inspirational. She’s everything I want to be when I get older,” said Amber Mansfield, escapades producer at Brandywine, who helps Turner with her social media and reads Turner the greetings on Facebook. “Her birthday gets bigger and bigger every year. That’s why we made her a Facebook.”
With more than 1,200 likes, Mansfield said followers from all over, including former students, comment.
“She made an impact on people. That’s the whole point in life — to leave an impact on people’s lives — and she really has,” she said.
Born when Theodore Roosevelt was president, Turner rode a horse and buggy to school as a girl and remembers lived through the Great Depression and both world wars.
Raised on a farm in Maryland, Turner yearned to travel, but her father was serious about her earning an education and thought traveling was a waste of money. To satisfy them both, she began hopping to different universities across the country.
“The first summer, I didn’t do anything. I went back to the farm, and I was bored to tears,” Turner said.
After that, said Turner’s daughter, 71-year-old Nancy Mellon, of Florida, Turner went to summer school at different universities across the country. Eventually, Turner graduated from Columbia University in New York City.
“Maybe you want to do one thing, and fate pushes you one way and you do another thing, but in the end, it turns out to be the best thing,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done anything better than get a teaching degree, teach and come up here. Everything I did seemed to be the right thing to do. I really have had a very, very wonderful life.”
In 1928, she moved to South Jersey and taught first-graders in Margate for 37 years. Turner married her husband, Arthur, in 1938. Her children were born during World War II.
“We’ve always had very, very special relationship,” Mellon said of Turner. ”She was never a mother that was critical.”
Turner lived alone for 30 years after her husband died in 1986. But her good outlook on life, something she attributes to her mother, led Turner to make a new life for herself traveling around the world.
“I really had two lives. I had my other life and marriage, and now I’ve had my life after he died,” she said. “But I couldn’t see just sitting around and moaning, because you know when he died I thought my life was over. Then all of a sudden, I realized that my life was what I made it, and if I wanted a life, I had to make it.”
Her biggest piece of advice she shares with friends:
“Work through things,” she said. “Don’t let them bother you.”