If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to reach the age of 100, Albert Anderson will happily tell you that it’s pretty darn good. He appreciates each day and has no regrets. He just wishes his partner of 43 years, Joe Hines, had lived to see him reach this landmark birthday.
His vision is failing, but his smile rarely fades. “I enjoy life,” said this centurion who could easily pass for 80. “I’ve always looked younger than I am,” he said, eyes sparkling. “Well, that’s what they tell me.”
Andy, as he’s known, was born in Chadron, Neb., in 1914, when Tinkertoys were brand new, Babe Ruth was playing his first year in the majors with the Boston Red Sox and the average annual income was $1,055. He grew up on a ranch in a four-room house with a brother and two sisters, attended a one-room schoolhouse and was proud that his mom was known for being the best cook in town.
He joined the Army Air Corp in 1941, flew bombing missions with the Hellbirds out of India and China, and was discharged in 1946 as a flight officer. Returning home, he attended Chadron State, decided it wasn’t where he wanted to be, and ended up with a degree in architecture and interior design from the University of Colorado, Boulder. “I loved Denver. It was the first city I’d ever seen,” he said. He was the house manager for his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon.
When he graduated, he once again went back to Chadron before finally confirming that farm life was not for him. He headed to California and discovered San Francisco, “which was so much more cosmopolitan.” He met Joe in 1952 and set down roots. “He was one terrific man. As soon as I met him I knew that was it.”
Andy said the best years of their lives were when they were buying houses and apartment buildings in San Francisco, completely redoing them, and then going on to the next one. They started in the early 1960s, and quit their jobs in 1967 to renovate fulltime. “I loved that kind of work, and Joe did too.”
In 1974, they bought a large home in Vallejo for themselves and remodeled it to perfection. It was furnished meticulously with antiques and oil paintings. They had Waterford Crystal, Limoges china and sterling silver, which they used at their frequent cocktail and dinner parties. “We had a home, not a house,” Andy said.
Andy and Joe traveled extensively, and especially enjoyed cruises. Europe, Dubai, Rio, New Zealand, Cambodia – there weren’t many places they missed and their experiences were far reaching. They walked on the Great Wall in China and in 1983 Andy caught a 35-pound salmon in Alaska.
Andy was devastated when Joe, a lifelong smoker, died of emphysema in 1995. “I wanted to get out of there,” he said. He sold their home and all their treasures and moved back to San Francisco. “To me, they were just possessions. I rule the possessions, they don’t rule me.”
He eventually moved to the veterans home in Yountville for a couple of years, but it didn’t meet his expectations and he started searching the internet for a new idea. He has lived at Emeritus Retirement Community (formerly Merrill Gardens) for two years now, where he likes his cheerful, one-bedroom apartment. “I’ve got a lot of good friends here who keep it going,” he said. “Couldn’t ask for a nicer group of people.” He goes on all bus trips and plays bingo and blackjack, “and our chef, Robert, does a darn good job with the meals, and he has good help.”
Andy would like to live to see the latest advancements in technology, and he looks forward to a day when “we get rid of vehicles that use gas.” He likes cars and remembers two that were extra special – his yellow 1947 Studebaker convertible, and his red 1999 Mercedes Benz 230CLK convertible, the car he drove until he stopped driving seven years ago.
“I like to think about the future. Forget the past, that’s over. Most people here live in the past. Forget that, that’s the wrong place to go,” Andy said. “I’m very fortunate that I still have a strong mind,” he added, and encourages people to “stay good and healthy. Be comfortable and have fun.”
He doesn’t think it is particularly remarkable that he has lived to see 100. “It doesn’t seem to be anything that exciting. There’s going to be a lot of people living to be 100 if they take care of themselves.”
Andy’s seen a lot of changes in his lifetime, a major one being society’s gradual acceptance of homosexuality. For most of his life, “We kept it very quiet.” He said he had to be very careful during his years in the military, and that “my fraternity was against homosexuality.” He never told his parents. “It was difficult.” He said he knew he was gay even as a boy and believes, “I would have been sent to an institution by the city officials if they knew I was gay.”
Gay marriage is even now so new it was almost unimaginable when he and Joe got together. As a legal protection, Andy adopted Joe, who was 14 years younger, to protect their assets for each other. “The judge who handled it said it was the best thing for us to do,” he said.
That’s all changed now, and his nieces and nephews love him for the man he is. Last weekend, they traveled here from Nebraska and Illinois, and Joe’s relatives came from Oregon, to be with him for a birthday bash organized by his good friend at Emeritus, Karen Estefan, the life enrichment director. There was cake and champagne and hip-hip hurrays, and Andy was in his glory, looking good in suit and burgundy silk tie with a matching pocket handkerchief.
The party was last week, but Andy’s actual 100th birthday was yesterday, on Monday, April 21. So, here’s to you, Andy, for a life well lived.