While people are living longer, reaching the age of 100 still remains a remarkable and somewhat rare feat.

Less than two of every 10,000 Americans will live long enough to become centenarians, according to a special census report.

Relatives of Pauline McNealy, both local and from out of state, are gathering in Petersville today to celebrate the official arrival of her milestone three-digit birthday with a joint party and family reunion.

A few days before today’s big event, more than 50 friends, neighbors and relatives gathered near her quarters at the Fairington Apartments to make McNealy “Queen For A Day.”

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What seemed to fascinate many at the gathering near 25th Street and Taylor Road was how much McNealy has been spared from typical geriatric health issues.

In fact, she doesn’t even need eyeglasses or hearing aids, neighbor Julia Casey said.

Although McNealy recently began using a walker, she remains remarkably alert, Casey said.

But McNealy shrugs off the attention on turning 100.

“It’s just another day,” she said.

Her nephew, Larry VanEst, 69, grew up residing with an extended family that included his Aunt Polly.

As one of 12 children born to an eastern Bartholomew County farm family, McNealy had two brothers who lived to be 98, and still has two sisters living well into their 90s, VanEst said.

While McNealy said she assumes genetics has played a significant role in her longevity, she has also avoided unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption and eating processed foods, she said.

But if there is one characteristic that has defined Pauline McNealy over her first 100 years, it has been her dedication to hard work, VanEst said.

“If something needed to be done, she didn’t hesitate to do it,” he said.

As a member of a large rural family, McNealy was raised to perform almost every conceivable farm chore involving crops and livestock, VanEst said.

“I did everything but plant corn,” the centenarian recalled. “Dad wouldn’t let me.”

While growing up with the perception of his Aunt Polly as a second mother, VanEst thought nothing about seeing her climb ladders to clean out leaves or paint without asking others to do the work for her, he said.

She displayed the same work ethic for 20 years at Reliance Manufacturing Co., which once produced clothing items in what is now called the Rumple Building at 1220 Washington St., her nephew said.

On the side, McNealy also gained quite a reputation for her made-from-scratch noodles, accepting orders from as far away as Florida and Texas, VanEst said.

His aunt has always preferred fresh or canned foods directly from the farm rather than purchasing foods at a local supermarket, he said.

When McNealy first moved to the Fairington Apartments, her new neighbors were astonished to watch a 94-year-old woman engaging in two-mile daily walks and doing her own snow shoveling, VanEst said.

But besides maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, VanEst implied there may be one other reason why his Aunt Polly has survived for a century.

“She’s never indicated that she worries about a lot of things,” VanEst said. “While concerned about others, she’s seldom concerned about herself.”

Those like McNealy who are able to moderate their anxieties and worries have a 50 percent decreased risk of death in any given year, according to psychology professor Leslie R. Martin of La Sierra University.

In contrast, those who fret about impending doom, see the glass as half empty and are harshly self-critical tend to die sooner, the psychologist wrote.

What was happening 100 years ago?

  • Charlie Chaplin becomes the world’s highest paid entertainer with a $670,000 annual salary, equivalent to $14.4 million today. (Feb. 26)
  • Coca-Cola brought its current formula to the market. (July 1)
  • The National Park Service is formed. (Aug. 25)
  • The Workmen’s Compensation Act was passed by Congress. (Sept. 7)
  • John D. Rockefeller is declared the world’s first billionaire. (Sept. 29)
  • Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to Congress — four years before women are allowed to vote. (Nov. 7)
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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.