Va. Man, 107, Finds Blessings and Burdens In Longevity

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ask Larry Haubner for the secret to living 107 years, and the Fredericksburg man flexes his biceps, flashes a mostly toothless smile and growls. "Nutrition!" he bellows. "Exercise! I think we should all exercise more than we do."

But the self-described health nut's longevity means he's outlived his savings -- twice.

Two years ago, supporters raised $56,000 to help Haubner stay at Greenfield, the assisted living center he calls home. "I was sure that was going to be sufficient," said Carol Ewing of Bridges Senior Care Solutions, who holds power of attorney to manage Haubner's affairs.

Today Haubner seems as vigorous as ever. He takes no medication and can lift his walker over his head. But his funds are expected to run out again in November. Without more help, he will have to apply for Medicaid and move to a nursing home. So friends are mounting a second campaign. They've raised more than $7,000, enough to pay his bills for three months.

"He doesn't have anyone," said Connie Miller, Greenfield's director, "so we've become his family."

Virginia is one of eight states that do not allow Medicaid -- a program to help low-income people obtain health care -- to be used for assisted living services, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America.

In most cases, said Cindi Jones of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, assisted living residents who run out of money and qualify for Medicaid move to nursing homes or move in with family. Maryland and the District allow Medicaid payments for assisted living services, although there is a waiting list in Maryland.

For most people, worries about life after 100 are theoretical. The Social Security Administration estimated in an actuarial study that one in every 25,000 men born in 1900 would live to 107.

Haubner, who was born June 14, 1902, is blue-eyed and bald and answers to the nickname "Curly." He lived alone in a Fredericksburg apartment until he was 102. Locals knew him as the older fellow often seen cycling around town. But in 2004, he fell off his bike and was taken to a hospital.

Social workers determined that he could not safely return to his apartment. They found a place for him at Greenfield, a private-pay facility. The 36 residents personalize rooms with photographs, pets and their furniture.

Haubner's room is spare, furnished mostly with donations. A recliner is flanked by ancient exercise equipment, including a homemade weight -- an eight-kilogram lead ball inside a basket -- that he lifts at least 20 times a day. "That's what I do. If you want to do it," he cautioned a visitor, "start with five times."

Robert Prasse, a physician who treats Haubner for free, said he is in good health. "I don't see anything that's going to take him away from us in a hurry," he said.

Haubner never married and has no surviving family or friends. Other residents' families have adopted him, Miller said, bringing him Christmas and birthday gifts.

In his first two years at Greenfield, Ewing said, Haubner covered the $3,500 monthly bill with savings and $1,200 in monthly pension and Social Security payments.

But it became clear by 2007 that Haubner's bank account was shrinking even though he showed no signs of slowing down. Supporters launched to solicit donations, Ewing said, and media attention helped bring in 375 contributions.

Ewing has not told Haubner that he again faces the possibility of moving. "I don't want to worry him," she said.

Greenfield and eight other assisted living facilities are run by Greenfield Senior Living, based in Falls Church. Company spokeswoman Olga Soehngen said Greenfield charges Haubner a reduced fee and cannot promise he will be able to live out his life there.

Moving to a nursing home would be hard on Haubner, his supporters said. It's not that nursing homes are bad. But at 107, Ewing said, "he's earned the right to stay where he is."

Details of Haubner's past are sketchy, gleaned from stories he tells. He was born in Dubuque, Iowa, and grew up in Tacoma, Wash., where his father worked on the railroad. "You might say we never had any money," he said.

He worked at a Tacoma lumberyard before enlisting in the Army in his late 30s, then moved to New York to work as a doorman and pursue a dream of singing opera. He had a teacher who believed in him. "She said I had a voice that could make it," he said. But he never sang professionally.

Haubner moved to Virginia to live with his sister when her husband died. Fredericksburg resident Dianne Bachman said she often saw Haubner cycle to the Rappahannock, dismount and croon to the river. "He didn't have to have an audience," she said.

Haubner still breaks into song now and then, with a warbly voice. He's fond of sitting on the front porch at Greenfield. And he remains vigilant about exercise and diet.

"Well, I ate the cake," he said of his latest birthday celebration. "But I don't believe cake is a good food."

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