At 100, D.C. voter still going strong

The centenarian sees voting as a civic duty she cannot shirk, even if she does not care for the candidates.
By Courtland Milloy
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 7:54 PM

Alma M. Coleman, who is 100 years old, got up early Tuesday, washed up, dressed up, fixed breakfast and then headed off to vote in the D.C. general election. No time to waste. She had the hang of this thing called life and wanted to savor every senior moment.

Take the art of getting out of bed. I wanted to know how she could arise on a dark, chilly November morning without her bones creaking the way mine did.

"Turn your body to the side and ease over to the edge of the bed," she told me. "Put your legs out and your feet down and just get up."

That's sort of the way I do it, and my back still hurt.

"When I was your age my back hurt, too," Coleman said. "But at my age, I've outlived all of my aches and pains."

In about 40 years, she figured, I should be feeling fine, too.

Of course it helps that Coleman taught exercise classes for 20 years - and still attends exercise class twice a week.

"I just thank God for the time I have," said Coleman, who lives in the Campbell Heights Senior Citizens Apartments at 15th and U streets NW.

Born in Florence, S.C., in 1910, the great-granddaughter of slaves, Coleman moved to the District in 1935 and spent most of her adult working life cooking and doing laundry at the old Statler Hotel downtown. She raised four children - her husband died when they were adolescents - and so far has outlived all but one, Ella McCall-Haygan, a social worker in the District who watches over her.

Remarkably, for all her triumphs and tragedies, the centenarian stays on an even keel. She does not despair. She is neither angry nor resentful. Has no beef with the tea party. No disappointments with President Obama. The emotional baggage that weighs so heavily on the national psyche, she is free of it all.

Let an economic downturn steal her joy?

"I came out of the country, grew up in the woods," Coleman said. "Everyday was like a Great Depression. But we managed to survive."

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