Ask Kathryn Marwitz of Schaumburg what the secret is to her long life, and she hardly misses a beat.
"I have no clue," she quips.
Then, reflecting on it a bit, she adds that hard work and staying busy has kept her young. She turns 102 next week.
"I always tried to do the very best in everything I did," says Marwitz, who worked as a bookkeeper and accounting supervisor for a small company. "I kept busy all the time. I think that's the secret."
Marwitz was one of 17 centenarians honored Friday by officials with Friendship Village. Every year on the anniversary of the senior residence community, they recognize residents reaching 100 years or more that year.
This year, on their 35th anniversary, they celebrated twice as many centenarians as last year. It's a trend they see continuing.
"It's an exclusive club," says Mike McCann, director of Lifestyles at Friendship Village, which includes programs, activities and community outreach for residents.
"I like to think it's part of our emphasis on health and wellness," McCann adds. "We advocate for residents to maintain their independence by continuing to grow physically, mentally and spiritually."
Dignitaries included Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, state Rep. Michelle Mussman and Steve Yenchek, CEO of Friendship Village.
In addition to Marwitz, they recognized Leota Sahr, Verner Sjodin, Helen Reed, Lorraine Zimowske, Fred Steigerwald, Jane MacDonald, Sadie Colvin, Marie Moulton, Helen Patt, Mary Nicosia, Marjorie Brederhorn, Evelyn Buchmann, LoDema Peters, Arthur Wall, Julia Petras and Lucille Gustafson.
For 99-year old Helen Reed, it was her first introduction to the select club. She turns 100 in July.
"I never thought I'd reach it," Reed says. "You don't plan on those things."
Reed taught in the Chicago Public System for nearly 30 years, first in the primary grades and the last 15 as a special-education teacher, where she had 15 students with a variety of disabilities in a classroom, and no aides.
"It was tough, but it was gratifying," Reed says.
Her daughters, Sue Reed of Arlington Heights and Donna Rumer of Beach Park, describe their mother as a lifelong learner, who continued to take classes, including earning her special education degree at night, while she taught.
Her good genes helped, they concede. Born in the middle of nine children of Swedish parents, she won a "Miss Sweden" contest in Chicago in the early 1930s.
Even now, Reed plays cards twice a week with her lady friends and she is a voracious reader. Her latest read is "Killing Lincoln," by Bill O'Reilly, which she tackled after finishing "Mulberry Child," by Jian Ping.
Marwitz keeps her mind active just trying to stay in touch with her large extended family, which includes eight grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren, with a sixth due this spring.
Their photos decorate her apartment along with the many needlepointed tapestries that Marwitz created.
Though both her husband and daughter have died, her son, Ron Marwitz and his wife Jean, visit her often, while a grandson does her weekly shopping.
Marwitz says that she and her husband came to Friendship Village 17 years ago, knowing that they wanted to be together until the end. He passed away 10 years ago, but she ran back and forth, she says, between the health care facility where he was treated and their apartment.
When asked how they met, she says simply: "ice skating."
"He was a fabulous ice skater and had to drag me around the ice," she says with a twinkle in her eye. "But I had the cute outfit."