Mike Tharp: Key to reaching 100 -- 'Keep on the good side of life'

November 19, 2011 

The secret.

That's what everybody wants to know about someone turning 100 years old.

For Carma Drury, who reaches that milestone Dec. 5 with his twin sister, Cuma Drury Riggs Schofield, the answer is easy:

"Only thing I can think of is I didn't die."

The Delhi resident and Pacific Gas and Electric retiree adds a few more tips as he sits in son Keith's house in North Merced with his wife, Betty. "I have been fortunate," he says in a clear baritone. "I've had no serious illnesses." During a recent routine checkup, he asked his doc about "my chances" if he reached 100. "He told me, 'The average life span after that is two and a half years -- but I'll give you 10.' "

A few more lessons for long life: "If you see something bad, you stay away from it or do away with it. I've gone to church as long as I can remember. So far I think the good has outweighed the bad. I try to keep on the good side of life."

He used to walk or run a half-mile, but now he confines his workout to sit-ups and calisthenics. He's on no major meds and "I watch my calories and try to eat reasonably. I don't have diabetes."

He thinks nothing of getting into his silver Camry and driving to Whiskey Creek near North Fork in Madera County to see his sister, who remains sharp as a tack but has become more frail than her brother. He's got three more years on his driver's license.

One of his grandfathers lived to be 100 and eight months and a cousin made it to 99. On his mother's side, most lived into their 80s, though one aunt lived to see 94.

Carma's and Cuma's extended family and friends will celebrate the big day Dec. 4 at the Hoffmeister Center of Central Presbyterian Church in Merced.

The twins were born on the family farm in Ozark, Mo., in 1911. In a 200-page well-researched family history and genealogy containing 134 vintage and contemporary photos, Cuma records that the family moved to Clovis when she and Carma were 8 years old. That's where their grandfather lived.

"Our first big event after coming to California was a trip to the ocean ... our family in Pop's panel truck," she writes. It was the first time either had been in a car or a truck. Back home they walked or traveled in a horse-drawn surrey with, of course, fringe on top.

They both graduated from Clovis High and both started studies at Fresno State. Cuma got married after a couple years to Howard Riggs who, with family partners, opened the Snow White Bakery on Yosemite Avenue. Carma graduated in 1935 with a teaching credential.

"There were 10 teachers for every job opening then," he recalls. "I wasn't fortunate enough to be one of the teachers. But I was fortunate to get a job with PG&E."

He worked there 40 years, retiring on Jan. 1, 1977. The company had moved him and the family to Merced in 1967. And, among other jobs, he became a teacher at the giant utility's night school classes. He did that for 20 years, including five in Merced.

In Madera he was active in the Boy Scouts, served several terms on the board of the Madera Elementary School District and was an active member of the First Baptist Church.

After her first husband died, Cuma continued to operate the business and in 1970 married Al Schofield, who died only a few months after their wedding. Both her husbands had been their senior class valedictorians.

Carma's first wife Alice died in 1980 at age 67. Betty had lost her own husband to cancer, and she and Carma, who met at church, were married three years later.

Brother and sister have always been adventurous, whether traveling to Europe or pulling a fifth-wheel trailer around the United States. Cuma's family chronicle, which extends back to the 17th century, also records her own odysseys all across America and into Canada.

Cuma has two children, four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren; Carma has three sons -- including Keith, a manager for San Luis Pump Co. in Merced -- six grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

Three years ago Carma and Cuma, with some of their kids, returned to Ozark. They walked the land where their father had tried to grow cotton, raise sheep and bees and followed other ag pursuits. Carma showed his three sons the four generations of family headstones.

The twins stay in touch. Carma drove down Tuesday to see her. "We were always close," he says. "Went to the same schools, all the same grades -- we have a good rapport with each other."

Some years back Carma started a series of woodworking projects. He wound up making grandfather clocks for his three sons, a dozen or so more for other family members.

"I still piddle with clocks," he says. "I clean them -- I don't replace them."

Nearly a half-million hours have ticked by for the twins. A Bible verse in Cuma's book may capture the meaning of their long lives:

"The years are throughout all generations."

Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or mtharp@mercedsunstar.com

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