Born in Hackettstown, N.J. on Dec. 6, 1917, Stuart still resides in the same home her husband, Henry (Hank) Stuart, and she built in the early '60s in Pacific Beach on Castle Hills Drive.
A party for Stuart's 100th birthday is being held Sunday, Dec. 3 at St. Brigid Parish Hall, 4735 Cass St., from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The spry centenarian reminisced about what it's like to turn 100.
“I still live just south of Turquoise (Street) in the house my husband and I built in 1962,” said Stuart, noting the “landscape” of PB is substantially different now.
“There wasn't even a street here where I live,” she said, adding, “and no Cardeno (Drive) going up to La Jolla. That was all undeveloped. We used to take our dogs up there to walk.”
On becoming a centenarian, Stuart noted, “I don't know how it happened. It just happened. I didn't do anything to deserve it — but here I am.”
Stuart feels fortunate to be around to turn 100.
“I'm just lucky that I have all my faculties,” she said.
Though the proportion of people reaching 100 is slowly increasing over time, statistics show it's still extremely rare, with roughly 1 person in every 6,000 reaching their 100th birthday today. Fifty years ago, only 1 person in every 67,000 reached the century mark. Only 0.0173 percent of Americans today live to age 100.
What’s biggest difference between now and nearly 100 years ago when Stuart was growing up?
“When I was 12 years old, invariably I would walk on the highway two miles up the hill to my house, even though I was supposed to take the bus,” Stuart said. “You can never leave a 12 year old to walk the highway today and not be in danger. I feel sorry for parents trying to raise children.”
Asked her fondest memory of Pacific Beach? Stuart answered, “There's quite a few. That's hard to answer.”
Stuart did recall, however, she once worked in the office of famous inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931), described as “America's greatest inventor,” best known for having invented the first practical light bulb, the photograph and the motion picture camera. Edison has more than 1,000 U.S. patents in his name.
Stuart worked at a New Jersey real estate agency until she met and married Hank in April of 1941. Shortly after they were married, Hank left for World War II. That's when Stuart was a secretary at the Thomas A. Edison Plant in the instruments division at East Orange, N.J.
The couple spent several years in New Mexico before finally moving to San Diego in the early '60s. Stuart earned a master’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University. They lived in their beautiful Pacific Beach home together until Henry died in 2005.
There's at least one thing that hasn't changed much for Stuart in the 55 years she's been in PB.
“I (still) have a house with a nice view of the ocean and bay,” she said, adding, “But all of our trees have grown until they're huge. It's a lot nicer in that regard.”