Photo: Boston Globe
Butler did it. Fred Butler finally received an honorary high school diploma Monday, at the advanced age of 106.
He was awarded the diploma by school officials in Beverley, Massachusetts. His daughter-in-law Cathy Butler launched the effort to get Butler his diploma as a way of raising his spirits following the death of his wife, Ruth, last year.
The Dorchester, Massachusetts-born veteran of the Second World War, lauded as "honest, kind and generous... through the tough times," worked in a small print shop as a youth while doing his best to attend school in the afternoon.
When Butler was offered a full-time position at the shop, he felt compelled to accept it, so he left school before 9th grade to support his mother and five siblings.
The story got us thinking about some other older folks who have achieved great things. Age really is nothing but a number, and these people prove it.
The World's Oldest Doctoral Graduate
Back in 2004, Edgar Dowse, at 93, became the world's oldest doctoral graduate. His doctorate was awarded by the London School of Theology and validated by Brunel University, and his thesis (perhaps not surprisingly given his vintage), examined the soul's relationship to god.
But Dowse was no Johnny Come Lately. The newly minted doctor, who never owned a computer and dictated his thesis, was a degree hog: he already held six of them by the time he got his doctorate (!).
He was inspired to undertake an advanced degree at a correspondingly advanced age, when his wife passed away. Steve Hodkinson, the school's pro-vice chancellor remarked, in a sentiment that perhaps many stressed out parents would dispute, "His achievement is an encouragement to everyone to see that learning is really for life and should be valued for its own contribution to a richer life, rather than simply as a means to an end."
Sadly, Dowse passed away in 2009 at the age of 99.
This Paperboy Is 93 Years Old
Here's another example of someone who's doing a little bit "extra extra" well into his 90s. The New York Times reported on a delivery man who didn't get the memo about the demise of print, who started out shouting out that famous phrase in Oklahoma in 1930.
Incredibly, Newt Wallace, a 93-year old resident of Winters California, still delivers his town's 2,300-circulation weekly, a carrier bag slung over his shoulder and a ball-cap pulled over his dome.
According to Wallace, "I don't hunt or play golf; I deliver papers." The indefatigable "paperboy" is only a contender for world's oldest newspaper deliveryman. The title is currently held by Englishman Ted Ingram, also 93, who gets the Dorset Echo to its intended readership.
Canada's Oldest Woman
Those young bucks have nothing on Merle Barwis. Barwis, grandmother to 38 and many, many more great grandchildren (seen here enjoying a cold beer at the age of 111 in a photo by Lyle Stafford of the Times Colonist), is Canada's oldest person, turning 112 in December of 2012.
Barwis lives by the credo, "Keep busy and mind your own business" - a principle held by her family as well, who've up until now denied media requests to cover the centenarian's birthday.
As inspiring as these folks may be, there may be cause for concern about how many women will survive into old age in the U.S.
A recent study found that life expectancy for many women in the U.S. is actually falling. Women 75 years old and younger in nearly half of U.S. states are dying at faster rates than in previous years.
Some experts have suggested that obesity rates, smoking and a lack of education may be to blame for the shift, although others admit they simply don't know why this is happening.
Estimates suggest that about 12 per cent of women in the U.S. are affected by the decline in life expectancy.