GOING STRONG — 100-year-old Alice Gafner pauses, but only briefly, for a photo during her recent birthday party at Bouton Physical Therapy, 221 S. James St. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Centenarian keeps herself, others motivated

Published Dec 31, 2017 at 9:00am

All the mornings they’re feeling too tired or less than motivated to go to Bouton Physical Therapy for their workouts, friends of Alice Reese Gafner said they think of her as their “extra push.”

On Monday, Dec. 11, Gafner was joined by her workout partners, as well as the staff at Bouton, located at 221 S. James St., to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Instead of taking to the free weights and exercise machines, Gafner was first greeted by well-wishers and presented with a birthday cake and light lunch after being presented with her special birthday tiara.

Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo also stopped by to present Gafner with a special city proclamation celebrating her as one of Rome’s centenarians. The mayor said she has had the privilege of visiting and wishing a happy birthday to two 100-year-olds during her tenure.

Born Dec. 11, 1917 in the Town of Westmoreland, Gafner graduated from high school in 1933 and went on to become a teacher after graduating from Cortland in 1937.

Gafner said she started out teaching eighth graders and then taught sixth grade in Westmoreland for about 13 years. Her teaching career spanned time teaching in Westmoreland, Coonrod, Parmalee, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill and Denti Elementary in Rome. The teacher moved to Rome in 1977, and retired in 1982.

Gafner said she took some time off from teaching to have her three children, two sons and a daughter, and then returned to substitute teaching.

Asked what she enjoyed teaching most, Gafner said, “Reading was one of my favorite subjects.”

Recently, Gafner said at a party held at her church in the Town of Lee, several of her students that she had taught before 1940 came to visit with her. She said her passion for teaching came as more of a family tradition.

“My father taught school, and I had an aunt who taught at several places around New York who ended up at Benedict College in South Carolina,” she said. “I also had cousins who went into teaching and an uncle who was a teacher.”

After suffering some broken vertebrae, Gafner said she started to come to Bouton Physical Therapy as part of her recovery efforts, and moved into The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing on North James Street. For a time she was not coming to Bouton, but returned back at the beginning of the year.

Since, Gafner has been coming to Bouton for her routine exercises twice a week, and spends about two hours performing her workouts. Quite independent, the centenarian was driving herself around until about a year ago when she decided to give it up.

Now Gafner enjoys getting a ride to Bouton where she not only looks forward to “moving” and getting out of the house, but to also visit with good friends and the friendly staff.

Mary Fields, an aid at Bouton who works directly with Alice, said the 100-year-old usually starts her workouts with pull weights and can do up to 250 repetitions.

“I try to do enough to really get a good workout because if I didn’t do this, I would probably just end up staying home,” Gafner said. “Mary follows me around and helps me out while keeping track of what I’ve done.”

Coming here, “gets me out of the house,” she said. “It’s a break in my routine. And the people here are so nice — all of them.”

Fields said she is awed by what an inspiration Alice is to herself and other patients and staff at Bouton.

“’Amazing’ is the only word I can come up with when I think of Alice,” Fields said.

“She’ll do 275 pull-ups using 40 pounds, then she’ll do her abducts (arm flexes) — about 140 of them at 40 pounds, and then she’ll get on the recumbent stepper for about 25 minutes,” Fields added.

“She finishes with the arm bike for about five minutes, and then she’ll go lie down so I can put hot pads on her back and knees until her ride gets here.”

The aid said, “The only help Alice needs is to occasionally get up on the machines. Otherwise she holds her walker and pulls herself up. I’ve never met anyone like her. She is quite the inspiration, and her personality is spectacular.”

In the 100 years of her life, Gafner has seen quite a bit of changes, from indoor electricity to plumbing. She said radios were a “miracle” to her, and now she lives in a world not only with televisions, but also computers and smart phones. She has made it through the Great Depression and even World War II. So it’s not a surprise to others that Alice has remained a strong and independent woman throughout the years.

On her birthday, Alice said she looked forward to visiting with her family who would be up for the holidays. She has a son who lives at New Delta Terrace in the Town of Lee, another son who lives near White Sands, N.M. and her daughter and her family reside in Round Rock, Texas, just outside Austin.

In the new year, Gafner said she looks forward to continuing her exercises at Bouton Physical Therapy. “I just really enjoy coming here,” she said.