Charlie Shorten received a book of personal photographic memories from his son for his 100th birthday. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Birthday celebration held in Red Deer for former missionary who turned 100

Charlie Shorten says clean living worked for him

Charlie Shorten, who helped build schools and hospitals in Africa, figures there just might be something to this idea of clean living…

The former missionary ate food from his garden and never drank or smoked — or even liked the taste of coffee or tea. He surprised himself by turning 100 on Tuesday, saying “It’s not something that I ever really thought about…”

Shorten’s birthday was celebrated by his family members at a surprise party thrown by staff and dozens of fellow residents at Red Deer’s Points West Living seniors’ care community.

Recreational co-ordinator Barb Morris explained that Shorten is the first resident to turn 100 since the facility opened last year. She believes it’s a milestone worth celebrating with the start of a “100-year memory wall” at the facility.

Addressing the elderly party guests, Shorten said, “I see many more of you who are coming up behind me… Let’s fill that wall!” he added, to an outburst of laughter and applause.

Although many more people are seeing their 100th birthday these days, it’s still only about one in 6,000 people. There are six times as many women as men who live at least 10 decades, and not as many people as medical experts were optimistically predicting would be celebrating their centennials by now.

In 2005, U.S. experts were projecting that about 114,000 Americans would live past 100 by 2010, when in actual fact, less than half of the projected number made it to that birthday, according to census results.

Shorten, who still has good health — despite breaking his arm in a fall earlier this year — is one of the lucky ones.

He was born in Toronto on the same year as Canada celebrated its 50th birthday.

He grew up in London, Ont., where he met his first wife. They were engaged before he joined the Canadian army, serving as a medic during the Second World War when troops were moving through Belgium and North Germany.

Shorten, a father of four, lost his first spouse, Winnifred, to cancer after a quarter-century of marriage. The couple and their children had mostly been living in Angola, working as missionaries to help build schools and hospitals for the local people.

Shorten eventually got remarried to Betty, another missionary, in the mid-70s. They continued working in Africa, moving to Rwanda after civil war broke out in Angola, said his son, Bob.

The 40 years spent on that continent were busy years — Angola and Rwanda were poor countries, with tough living conditions, Shorten recalled. But it was a fulfilling period, spent helping others, and his belief in God helped sustain him.

Shorten’s other son, David, noted his Dad has a good sense of humour — “and that always helps.”

When asked what year he retired, Shorten drew another laugh from the crowd by quipping “I never retired! I’m still going!”

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