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Simply behaving the secret to a century

November 28, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Jewel Bender has much to be thankful for. As her family gathered for their annual Thanksgiving feast, they also celebrated her 100th birthday. This year, her Nov. 23 birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving.

"That doesn't come very often," Bender said.

To mark the milestone, Bender's daughter, Barbara Fulton, held an open house Nov. 21 at her home on Red Oak Drive in Halfway. Friends, family and neighbors came and went throughout the late morning and afternoon bearing gifts, flowers and birthday greetings for the centenarian.

A special guest had much in common with Bender. Gladys Arnold turned 100 on Sept. 30. The two attended first grade together in Great Cacapon, W.Va.; Bender's aunt was their teacher.

Both went to Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) and became schoolteachers. They now live about five minutes away from each other in Washington County.

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Arnold, who never married, lives in an apartment at Homewood at Williamsport, where she has lived for 23 years. She taught high school English in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for most of her career.

Bender, whose maiden name is Hiett, taught in Morgan, Hampshire and Berkeley counties in West Virginia. Her first job was as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse.

Married women were not allowed to teach, so she took a break after marrying Clarence Bender and raised their two children, a son and daughter. She has three granddaughters and two great-great grandchildren.

Bender returned to teaching and retired at age 62 as a fifth-grade teacher, a grade she said she enjoyed teaching very much.

She earned her teaching certification in 1926 after attending Shepherd for two years. Bender went back to Shepherd and got her bachelor's degree in 1959, the first of three generations of her family to graduate from Shepherd.

Fulton graduated from there, just a week before her mother, and granddaughter, Ashley Fulton, has an associate degree from Shepherd and will graduate in December 2007 with a bachelor's degree.

Bender lived in her own home in Martinsburg, W.Va., with help, until two years ago, when she moved in with her daughter.

Arnold said one of her secrets to long life is exercise.

"I swam, played tennis, did everything I could do," she said. When she moved to Homewood, she said she "walked for miles and miles" for exercise.

"We both behaved ourselves," Arnold said with a smile.

As for Bender, her recipe for longevity is easy: "Living the simple life, I would say."

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