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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

Age sets a record

J. Russell Coffey was born Sept. 1, 1898, which puts him in the unusual category of people who have lived in three centuries. He is a 50-year-member of the Rotary Club in B.G. J. Russell Coffey was born Sept. 1, 1898, which puts him in the unusual category of people who have lived in three centuries. He is a 50-year-member of the Rotary Club in B.G.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN - At 106, J. Russell Coffey has outlived all his family members and acquaintances.

The retired Bowling Green State University professor isn't complaining though. As a 50-year member of the Bowling Green Rotary Club, he considers his fellow Rotarians awfully good friends even if they are quite a bit younger.

"The Rotary has just been wonderful to me," Mr. Coffey said during an interview at his home yesterday. "If I can go there this week, they'll do anything I suggest."

Mr. Coffey was born Sept. 1, 1898, which puts him in the unusual category of people who have lived in three centuries.

Local Rotarians, who plan to celebrate his birthday at their weekly dinner meeting tomorrow at Bowling Green Country Club, have another title to bestow upon Mr. Coffey.

"We're officially claiming him as the oldest living Rotarian in the world," said Donald Zajac, president of the local group.

Petina Dixon, spokesman for Chicago-based Rotary International, said the organization doesn't keep records on members' ages, but she's not disputing the title.

"At 106, he probably is the oldest active Rotarian," she said. "He's older than the organization."

Rotary, which began in Chicago in 1905, plans to mark its centennial next year.

When Mr. Coffey marked his 100th birthday in 1998, the club made him an honorary lifetime member, Mr. Zajac said. He no longer has to pay membership dues. He has a pass on "fines" members are charged for fun at meetings, and he is excused from having to make every weekly meeting.

membership dues. In addition, Mr. Coffey has a pass on "fines" members are charged for fun at meetings, and he is excused from having to make every weekly meeting.

"Up until about two years ago, he was very active and attended regularly. He had just about perfect attendance for 40 years," Mr. Zajac said. "In Rotary Club, if you miss a meeting you can make it up somewhere else.

"So when he couldn't make our meeting, he'd drive down to North Baltimore and go to a meeting there," Mr. Zajac said. "He was doing that when he was 100."

Mr. Coffey still has a car sitting in his garage, but he hasn't driven for several years because of his diminished eyesight. He's also become hard of hearing in recent years but otherwise remains surprisingly fit.

"I've maintained my weight at 145 pounds," he said matter of factly. "I walk out to the terrace if the day is nice and then I walk back in the house."

He also has an indoor "track," a loop from the kitchen to the dining room and around to the living room, that he manages with the help of a walker twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.

Once a physical education professor at BGSU, Mr. Coffey said he believes diet and exercise have played a part in his longevity.

Having a pet - he no longer does, but used to enjoy having a dog - avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, and trying not to worry help too, he said.

His wife died in 1993, and his only daughter lives in North Baltimore.

For the last year, Mr. Coffey has had caregivers at his home around the clock, though providing companionship seems to be as much a part of their job as anything else.

"We're just here for him," said Michelle Harman of Home Instead Senior Care, who was at his home yesterday. "He listens to the news in the morning and at night, and he loves to listen to music, especially Irish music."

Mr. Coffey, who worked for Findlay City Schools and the former Findlay College before moving to Bowling Green in 1954, said he would've joined Rotary Club sooner, but it wasn't in the cards.

"I had friends in Findlay who wanted me to join Rotary, but they met at noon, and we couldn't take any of the teachers out of school," Mr. Coffey recalled. "Plus, the superintendent was in Kiwanis, so there was no chance of any teacher being a Rotarian."

- Jennifer Feehan



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