HANCOCK COUNTY — Loraine Atherton looks forward to New Year’s Day more than most.
Not only does each Jan. 1 signal a new year; the day also happens to be her birthday. And after 104 of them, every New Year is something extra special.
Atherton, a New Year’s baby born in 1913 in Indianapolis, celebrated her 104th birthday Sunday at Springhurst Health Campus, whose staff and fellow residents surprised her with cake and balloons.
Sitting in her room, still decorated with Christmas cheer, Atherton took a few minutes to scan through a book before heading to the senior happy hour weekly gathering; that’s where her friends and the staff who care for her surprised Atherton with a special birthday celebration. The party include singing happy birthday and presenting her with a large chocolate cake, her favorite.
Atherton says her longevity is the result of staying active — reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing bingo and interacting with others.
“You just keep a-going, I guess,” Atherton said. “I don’t just sit here and do nothing; I get up and go.”
Atherton graduated from Arsenal Tech High School in 1929. She married Horace Atherton when she was 23 years old. Shortly after, the couple moved to Spring Lake in Hancock County, where they built a life together.
Daughter Pam Komendo, 67, of New Palestine, was among the 20-some family members who gathered Sunday with Atherton at the nursing facility to help celebrate the momentous occasion.
Komendo credits her mom’s outlook on life as the reason for her long life.
“She’s never really has a negative attitude about anything,” Komendo said.
That held true even when Atherton battled through breast cancer twice and suffered the loss of her husband in 1983 and the passing of daughter, Marilyn Ann Atherton Kleiman, in 2014.
Atherton lives a comfortable, happy life nowadays and enjoys regular visits from her daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, her daughter said.
In late 2016, when Hancock County was hit with the first measurable snowfall of the season, staff at the facility checked to see if any residents wanted to go outside and experience it.
Atherton jumped at the chance and even lay down in the snow where she made a snow angel, just like she used to do as a child, she said.
“She’s just a joy to be around, and she’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet,” staff member Chelsea Johnson said.
The two have developed a strong bond. Johnson marvels at the knowledge Atherton has and the ability to be able to share it at her age, she said.
“She really blows me away every time we have a conversation,” Johnson said. “She’s one of my favorite people here.”