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Mantecan tops 107-year mark
Life is still a joy for birthday girl Florence Vierra
Doris Kooyman, 87, holds the cake as her 107-year-old mother Florence Vierra blows the candle. Vierras birthday celebration was held on Monday, Oct. 1, at Marios Family Restaurant in Ripon. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Florence Vierra lived in her own home until March of this year when an unfortunate fall forced her to move to Bethany Home in Ripon.

She enjoyed her independence. She loved her garden, particularly her iris blossoms. She took care of her own home and followed a daily routine that included making her own bed as soon as she got up in the morning.

And, unlike many weight-conscious people who religiously watch what they eat, Vierra eats “anything and everything,” family members attest. Yet, she never has to worry about going on a diet.

She didn’t even feel any tinge of guilt eating a good portion of her birthday cake during a luncheon celebration given in her honor by family and friends at Mario’s Family Restaurant in Ripon.

All of that sounds normal except for the fact the longtime Mantecan is 107 years old. Her birthday was actually on Friday, Sept. 28. However, family and friends moved the celebration to the following Monday, Oct. 1, at the sit-down restaurant just across the street from Bethany Home on Main Street in Ripon. Sharing her special day were her two surviving daughters – she and her late husband had four daughters and one son – Doris Kooyman of Lodi, the oldest of her five children, and Bea Luis of Manteca who was born after Kooyman. Vierra lived in a large mobile home next to Luis’ house in south Manteca since 1986.

The party also included Vierra’s granddaughter, Stacy Avila, who lives in Oakdale, and friends from St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca – Sister Ann Venita who brings her communion every Sunday, and Lolita Rilcopiro.

Even in her ripe old age, Vierra has never lost her sense of humor. Asked how old she was before she blew the single candle that topped her birthday cake courtesy of the restaurant, she said laughing, “I’m a hundred and ninety-nine years old!”

For lunch, she ordered a bowl of spaghetti. Kooyman and Luis said their mother has never been a picky eater. She ate “a lot of soups and beans, but not a lot of fish,” Kooyman said.

“She eats everything. And she eats better than any of us,” added a laughing Kooyman, 87, who admitted to having inherited her mother’s sense of humor.

Amazingly, said Luis, “she never got a cold, never ever got a cold.”

“Not even a headache,” piped in Kooyman.

Their centenarian mother also never had any problem with her hearing until about a month-and-a-half ago. Her eyesight is still good, too, except for some macular degeneration. In fact, said Luis, “she crocheted until she was 101.”

Vierra always asserted her independence, which she still does today with a remarkably firm voice. During the years she lived in her own home next to Luis, the two sisters would often stop by to offer their help, to the chagrin of their fiercely independent mother.

“She used to get mad at me. She’d say, ‘what are you doing here? I can take care of myself’,” Kooyman said, recalling the times when she stopped by unannounced.

She and her sister actually decided between them to be at their mother’s place alternately every week.

Up until March, “she did her own bed, she took her own shower,” Kooyman said.

They also shared a story that happened when they took their mother out to Chili’s restaurant in Manteca to celebrate her 106th birthday. Anticipating the arrival of a centenarian guest, the manager had a wheelchair and a walker waiting at the door. But to his amazement, he watched dumbfounded as the small but sprite Vierra got out of Luis’ truck and walked unaided toward the door of the restaurant.

Vierra was born on Sept. 28, 1905 in San Jose, the year before the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. She was the oldest of seven children. Her father came to America from the Azores in Portugal. His name was actually Joe Cardoza, “but they couldn’t spell Cardoza, so he just went with Silva,” Luis and Kooyman said. Vierra’s mother, Anna, was born in Bakersfield. They were married at the Mission Santa Clara church. Her father worked as a truck driver. “Our uncle had a trucking business,” and that’s how their father got the job, Kooyman explained. Vierra was a “homemaker – that’s what everyone calls them (stay-at-home moms) nowadays, but she was a housewife,” Luis said. But Vierra also found a way to earn some money while taking care of the home. “Mama cooked for all the hired men” in their uncle’s business, said Kooyman. But their parents were never too busy to follow their favorite sports teams, she added. “Their favorite teams were the Niners and the Giants,” she said.

Vierra was in the second or third grade when her parents moved to Tracy in a Reo car. After her husband passed away in 1962, Vierra never remarried. Today, Vierra is a grandmother 19 times over with seven great-grandchildren.