Strong families secret to longevity for centenarians


Thomas Mimnaugh of Cranston keeps a cheat sheet in his wallet. Three scraps of paper list the names of his 13 children, his 15 grandchildren and his 18 great-grandchildren. Surrounding himself with his family, a brood that just keeps growing, is what has kept him strong at 100 years old.

“I woke up and I was that old. I didn’t realize I was that old,” he said last Thursday at the 36th annual Rhode Island Governor’s Centenarians Brunch.

Hosted at The Bridge at Cherry Hill in Johnston, the brunch celebrated 61 Rhode Islanders at least 99 years old. In total, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs identified 122 centenarians living here, making Rhode Island the leading state in the nation in concentration of centenarians. In fact, the state holds the title for individuals age 85 and older as well. The event coincides with May’s Older Americans Month.

Catherine Taylor, director of the Division of Elderly Affairs, believes that Rhode Island is emerging as a “blue zone,” a term used to describe areas where people tend to live longer. As for why such a trend exists, she says you need look no further than the state’s nickname and its motto.

“It’s just so beautiful here and people grew up and live around this natural beauty,” she said of the Ocean State.

Taylor also said that having a strong social and familial network gives seniors hope, and those ties can translate into longevity.

“Loneliness is the worst problem we have facing people as they age,” she said. “The people here – they’re all so needed. People have a role to play in their community.”

For Mimnaugh, that role has been one characterized by faith and family. The former John Hancock insurance salesman says his late wife, Matilda, deserves the credit for his long life.

“My wife and I never had an argument. She was the greatest,” he said.

Thankfully, Mimnaugh still has his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep him smiling. His daughter, Maggie Cotter, says that growing up, their house was full of laughter. Of Mimnaugh’s 13 children, 10 are girls.

“This is why he’s as old as he is,” Cotter jokes.

Taylor encouraged the seniors to develop friendships and support networks of their own.

“After last year, I saw a lot of our guests exchanging phone numbers. This is a networking event; don’t leave without a phone number of somebody new,” she said.

Louise Silva of Cranston and Joseph Celona of North Providence were honored at the brunch for being the oldest woman and man in attendance. Celona, now 105 years old, says his secret has been hard work, as he used to work 17-hour days. When event host Mario Hilario from Channel 10 announced Silva’s age, guests shared a collective gasp.

A resident of the Scandinavian Home in Cranston, Silva is turning 110 this year.

Longevity runs in Silva’s family. Both of her sisters made it into their 90s, and her mother passed away at the age of 100.

Edna Strong of Johnston has a very different lineage. Although she is turning 103 this year, her family has not been as fortunate traditionally.

“I’m just lucky, because all my family died young,” she said.

Strong had a twin who died at the age of 12 from tuberculosis.

“That was very prevalent in those days,” she added.

Strong has had a tough few months health-wise, but she returned to her home at The Bridge at Cherry Hill just the day before the brunch. Now that she’s settling back in, and celebrating her longevity, Strong says she is on the mend.

“I feel pretty good,” she said.

Dorothy Hamilton of Warwick can’t quite pin down her secrets to longevity.

“I don’t have any; I just made it,” she said.

Hamilton does have a strong support system, though. The mother of three has 13 grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-grandson who brings her joy. She lives at Sunny View Nursing Home but is able to see her family often.

“I just love to play with them,” she said.

All of the centenarians and soon-to-be centenarians in the crowd were able to bring a guest with them. Hamilton attended the brunch with her granddaughter, Wendy Maxwell, also of Warwick. When asked what she learned from her grandmother, Hamilton cut Maxwell off.

“She learned how to spoil grandkids,” Hamilton said, smiling.

Elvira Scotti knows a thing or two about spoiling grandchildren. The former Cranston resident, who now lives at West Shore Health Center in Warwick, likes to brag about her three children, six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

“For years, every Sunday at our house we had everyone over for Sunday dinner,” she recalled.

Homemade pizza and every type of pie are among Scotti’s specialties in the kitchen. She loves to cook and to sew, and on Thursday was wearing a beautiful pastel suit she made herself, accented with a delicate string of pearls.

“I still got my marbles, too,” she said, laughing.

Scotti has found plenty to keep her busy in retirement. She was a longtime golfer – “I got awards, too” – and enjoyed spending time in the Florida sun. Now that she’s 99 years old, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’m so happy,” she said.


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