OSWEGO, NY – Bill Mason celebrated his 100th birthday Wednesday (Feb. 6) with about 100 or so of his family, friends and assorted other well-wishers.
What’s the secret to his longevity?
The birthday boy grinned and with a theatrical panache replied, “Pure luck!”
His smile grew wider as he added, “And, a joy of living. I have had such a ball! A hundreds years and it was a ball.”
He served in the US Navy during World War II, but everything worked out well for him, he added.
“It’s just great to be alive. It’s a beautiful day. Look at all the friends here,” he said.
Back in the early 1930s, “after the stock market failed and the country was going through some very rough times” he recalls a family friend who owned several insurance companies was financially ruined.
“It was a real bad time all over the country. Our friend lost one of his insurance companies in that mess; it went right out of business. For the few customers he had left with that company, he made good for them out of his own pocket,” he said.
The friend had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for a while.
“When he got out, they told him he could go home, but he couldn’t be alone and he couldn’t stay there. They suggested he take a trip but said he couldn’t drive, he had to take somebody with him,” Mason recalled. “He took me and we drove all the way to California!”
“And, he wasn’t going to miss anything. We drove all over – Yellowstone, Yosemite, the whole thing. We drove all over, we saw everything!”
“Mr. Mason said he is blessed with a good life and he always tries to find the best in everyone,” said Julie Chetney, Senior Living Coordinator for Bishop’s Commons at St. Luke. “I think that is really great advice.”
Ginger Mason, one of Bill’s daughters, said she felt blessed to see all the people in attendance, including some old friends from Fulton.
“On behalf of myself and my sister, Janet, and our family I sincerely welcome you all here today to share in the 100th birthday celebration of our dad, Bill ‘Willie’ Mason,” she said.
Her father developed a love of music early in life, with help from his father, she explained.
“It all began when dad’s father, a Fulton dentist, traded dental services for dad’s clarinet lessons from someone who used to play in the Fulton marching band. As soon as my dad showed a sincere interest in playing the instrument, his father bought him his first trumpet,” she said.
In high school, he was part of a small dance orchestra.
“This he enjoyed tremendously as he was swept up and engulfed in the magical world of the Swing Jazz era,” she said.
Besides playing clarinet, he often sang the vocals, “as he tells it, he was the only one who could carry a tune,” she added.
While he was playing at many a dance, a young female classmate of his, named Vicki Lewis, was always out on the floor dancing.
She caught his eye and they were married in 1942.
“In the next few years, dad did a tour in the Navy and when he returned, Janet and I were born,” Ginger said. “Growing up with such music loving parents, Janet and I learned early that on those long road trips, when mom and dad would begin singing together, that it was a lot easier and more enjoyable to learn the words and join in rather than to protest.”
Singing in the car became “a memorable family tradition.”
“Those were some of the happiest times of my life,” Bill agreed.
Growing up, Ginger recalls going to church with his sister and mother for their religion. “Dad would head to the hi-fi for his,” she quipped. “The Dukes of Dixieland, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and so many other great musicians.”
Even now, Bill says many of the old songs run through his head, “Some lyrics remembered, others not.”
“But, thanks to the Internet, the lyrics have been found, and with the song and memory complete dad is once again thrilled to be engulfed in the magical world of the Swing Jazz era,” Ginger said.
She then introduced the Anthony Joseph Trio.
They played favorites from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.
The audience sang along to some of the songs. The birthday boy tapped his toes and snapped his fingers to the beat.
“If I had my trumpet, I’d join in,” he said.
“We’d love to have you,” Joseph replied.
The average age of residents at Bishop’s Commons is 89. Bill is the only one who has reached 100, but there are a couple close behind him.