24 centenarians set a record for the ages

MONROE — Frieda Furrer might be 101 years old, but on Monday she smacked a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game.

Furrer was wheeled up at the last minute by her son and daughter-in-law to enable organizers at the Evergreen State Fair, which is celebrating its centennial year, to break what they say is the world record for a gathering of centenarians — people 100 years or older.

The old record was 23, according to Stephanie Hagarty-­Moening, a member of the fair’s advisory board. Furrer was the 24th to arrive at the gathering at the fair.

“I just broke into tears,” said Lisa Caldwell, community relations director at Merrill Gardens retirement community in Monroe who had worked hard to arrange the gathering.

When Furrer was rolled into the gathering and introduced as the record-breaker, a huge cheer went up from the crowd.

Caldwell had 32 centenarians from senior living facilities from around the Puget Sound area signed up to appear on Monday. The fair’s quest to be listed in Guinness World Records — organizers have tried several times to break other records and come up short — appeared to be well on its way to success.

Then, complications arose.

“We had one die on Wednesday and one died on Friday,” Caldwell said. Another took a fall, she said.

About an hour into the gathering, under a big outdoor tent at the fair, 22 had shown up. Caldwell spent nearly another hour frantically calling nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the area.

Shortly, No. 23 showed up. And then, about half-an-hour later, in rolled Furrer.

It’s not good enough for the centenarians just to be there — Guinness requires several steps of proof not only of the gathering, but of the age of all the centenarians present, Hagarty-Moening said.

This means scrounging up birth certificates, passports or whatever other documentation is available, which for people more than 100 years old is not always a snap, organizers said. Many were born at home, not in hospitals.

Furrer was born in Switzerland and had no birth certificate, but did have a marriage document that listed her age — from 1931, printed in German, said her son, Ron Furrer, 74, of Camano Island.

The Furrers weren’t even among those originally signed up, said Ron Furrer and his wife, Beverly. They heard about the event at his mother’s assisted living facility, Maryhaven in Monroe, he said.

Frieda Furrer knew there was some excitement, but she wasn’t aware that she apparently set a record, Beverly Furrer said.

Others in the crowd were aware and enthusiastic about the record.

“Amen!” said Conley Silsby, 100, of Cathcart, as he pumped his fist. Silsby was a professor at Christian colleges for 41 years, most recently Puget Sound Christian College when it was located in Tacoma, before the now-defunct school moved to Snohomish County. He also did a weekly Christian radio broadcast to five states, he said.

Joe Siegert, 101, of Stanwood, seemed amused by the spectacle.

“It’s OK with me,” he said. Sie­gert had a varied career of homebuilding, including in Marysville, worked in warehouses, owned an auto parts store and a tavern in Monroe.

Siegert and Silsby were two of only three men among the 24.

The oldest at the event was Georgia Geiger, 107, of Monroe.

At first, Elizabeth Grant, the fair’s marketing director, figured the event would be fun just to see the interaction of the centenarians and their families, regardless of whether the record was broken. This was true, she said, until the thrill of setting the record took over.

“I couldn’t be any more excited,” she said.

The previous record was set at a tea party in Northern Ireland in 2006, Hagarty-Moening said. Now, once all the documentation is turned in, the fair will get a certificate as the record holder, she said.

On Sunday, the fair will attempt to break another record when it tries to assemble 6,800 people to do the hokey-pokey, Hagarty-Moening said. The current record is 6,748, she said.

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com..

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