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posted: 2/17/2010 12:01 AM

Aurora woman celebrates 100th birthday

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  • Bernice Balt of Aurora speaks words of wisdom to the Friendly Center Club gathering during her 100th birthday celebration last month at the Prisco Community Center.

    Bernice Balt of Aurora speaks words of wisdom to the Friendly Center Club gathering during her 100th birthday celebration last month at the Prisco Community Center.
    Courtesy of Fox Valley Park District


The year was 1910.

Milk was 32 cents a gallon. A 12-day cruise cost a mere $60. There were 8,000 cars in circulation and only 10 miles of paved roads. The average worker spent 55 hours a week on the job and took home $14 for his time.

And Bernice Balt was born.

Flash forward to Jan. 25, 2010, when Balt, a resident of Provena Fox Knoll in Aurora, celebrated her 100th birthday. Days earlier, she was honored by an auditorium full of fellow seniors, all admirers and well-wishers who had gathered at the Prisco Community Center for their weekly Friendly Center Club luncheon.

While they collectively marveled at her longevity, Balt simply gave a 100-year shrug.

"Well, so I'm 100," she said. "I don't feel any different; I'm just thankful I'm still able to get around the way I do to enjoy moments like these."

The Friendly Center Club - among the Fox Valley Park District's most popular senior programs - helps put a little more glitter into the golden years for the ever-growing group of adults age 55 and older who love to stay active and energetic.

Every Thursday, several hundred seniors gather at the Prisco Center to celebrate life. Whether it's birthday parties, bingo, luncheons, holiday celebrations, theme parties or guest speakers, this group knows how to live it up. With years of festive living under their belts, they're plenty experienced at having fun, and it shows.

They truly enjoy each other's company - and talking about the grandchildren, of course. Spirited bingo games are a staple, and Wii bowling is a huge hit, particularly with that group of ladies seen exchanging high fives and talking about the beer frame.

"If you miss a little, you miss a lot," noted Balt.

Indeed, 2010 is off to a great start with a New Year's party, Super Bowl party, Valentine's Day party, Mardi Gras party and a St. Patrick's Day lunch.

Meeting new people, developing friendships and getting together to enjoy each other's company - those are three staples to a good life - and they never grow old. The Friendly Center Club has been around for 58 years, yet each meeting carries new excitement.

Jennifer Huber has been the club's leader for the last 11 years. She gets calls all the time from community members wanting to get their elders involved in Friendly Center Club. To encourage newcomers, Huber staffs each week's event with greeters. So instead of new guests feeling as if they're crashing a party, they feel like A-list celebrities on an exclusive invitee list.

"Next thing you know, they're forming their own circle of friends and joining us regularly on tours," Huber said.

In April, Huber will launch the Golden Foxes Walking Club. In conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association and the AARP, the club will help evaluate the accessibility of local trails, paths and park areas.

That sharp and witty 100-year old might have some wisdom to impart on that topic.

"Ask me anything, and I'll tell you the truth," Balt said during her 100th celebration, "and if I can't tell you the truth, I'll just make up a lie."

Truth be told, she - and everybody else - is among good friends at the Friendly Center Club.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. For information on the Friendly Center Club, contact Jennifer at (630) 859-8606.