LINWOOD – With bagpiper Jeff MacNeil leading the way, Helen Turner was beaming as she entered the bistro at Brandywine Living at Brandall Estates Saturday afternoon for her 110th birthday party.
More than 100 people joined Brandywine in celebrating Turner's birthday and her life with balloons, flowers and a huge cake.
Turner had a busy social calendar the week leading up to the big day – meeting with reporters and newscasters, spending time with her daughter and son-in-law up from Florida, greeting friends, and taking a spin around town with vintage automobile collector Ralph Clayton of Upper Township in a 1919 taxi that was towing a calliope playing music.
While Turner has some macular degeneration, her eyes are still good enough for her to knit, which she does every morning. She said she has made more than 140 scarves and gives them all away as gifts.
“I just love it here,” Turner said in an interview Thursday, March 30. “I have so many friends, and I am lucky enough that even at my age I keep making new ones.”
Her days are filled with Rummikub and bingo, followed by dinner in the dining room with friends. Afterward they get together to play some trivia – where her strongest categories are geography and history.
She said that after she drinks her Ensure at lunch, she is ready to go and has loads of energy for her activities.
“The truth is, I have fun every single day of my life,” said Turner. “There is a 15-year-old inside of me that is waiting to come out.”
She looks forward to Friday afternoon happy hour, when she has a glass of wine and gets a chance to kick up her heels on the dance floor.
“I love to dance,” said Turner. “At this point I don’t really have any fancy steps – now we just kind of move in place to the music – but I still love it.”
Turner even has a presence on social media; the posts on her Facebook page Helen Graham Turner 110 Years Old and Counting include videos of Turner reminding people to do important things such as vote and advising everyone to "Hug someone today." Turner said she needs hugs every day, and friends and some of the staff at Brandall Estates make sure they get their "Helen hug" daily.
Turner's outlook is to live without worries and allow life's problems and challenges to slip from your shoulders.
“When something is bothering you, don’t worry about it; put it behind you and move on,” said Turner. “I know it’s not always easy to do, but that is what helps me, putting things like disappointments behind me. When people come to talk to me and they ask, I tell them, ‘Put it all behind you.’”
Turner's daughter, Nancy Mellon, who lives in Florida and spent the week in Linwood to be with her mother on her birthday, said said she has been fortunate to have her mother all these years and that she enjoys every minute of the time they spend together.
“My friends were always a little envious of me because of my mom. She was always someone special. She never set a curfew for me, saying that she expected me to know when I should be home," Mellon said. "I never wanted to ruin that, so of course I never stayed out late. She was very smart to put it that way."
Mellon said her mother permitted her to read whatever books she chose, and let her know that if she ever had a question, they could talk about it.
“The same with movies; I could always talk to her,” she said.
Turner chuckled when Mellon said that once, when she confessed to her mother that she wanted to try smoking but didn't want to do it behind her back, Turner borrowed a cigarette from a co-worker and brought it home for her to try.
Turner’s extended family traveled from up and down the the East Coast to be there for her party Saturday, and many friends came as well. A number of people took the microphone to speak, including her eldest granddaughter, Melissa Mellon.
“I am so lucky; you are an inspiration in our family and in life. As a woman, you are someone who has showed us where you were and how you got there – and all the little steps in between,” she said.
Lindsey Mellon said she is blessed to be able to spend so much time with her grandmother.
"Your outlook on life constantly amazes me,” she said.
Chelsea Mellon, the wife of Turner's grandson, said Turner has a special legacy in their family.
"When we were pregnant with our first and found out it was a boy, we knew right away we knew we wanted to name him Graham after Helen,” she said.
Frank Phillips, formerly from Northfield, is a friend and a resident of Brandall Estates. He said the residents love Turner and that she is an inspiration to them.
Dottie Walsh, who said Turner one her dearest friends, wished her many more happy days.
From across the room, Herb Stein – who said he is “Helen’s dance partner,” called out to her, “Happy birthday, and we have many more dances yet to come!”
Turner entered the world April 1, 1907 on Maryland's Eastern Shore, grew up on a farm and headed to Towson State Teachers College, (now Towson University) to become a teacher.
Teaching would bring her from a one-room school house in Maryland to Atlantic County. She moved to Pleasantville and took a job in Margate at the Union Avenue School, where she stayed for more than 30 years before retiring in 1978.
Turner said that while she taught several grades, it was in first grade that she found her niche in education and with children.
“First grade was wonderful. They are just like a clean slate at that point, and you can just watch them bloom as the year goes on,” she said.
Turner is still teaching important life lessons every day on the importance of a good attitude, a good hug and how to make the most of every single day.
After blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, she shared her birthday wish: "Happiness for all. Everyone should have 110 years as nice as mine."