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Woman celebrates her 106th at the keyboard

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 4/9/2018 Pam Kragen, The San Diego Union-Tribune

a person wearing a costume: Dorothy Coleman smiles as she chats with a visitor during her 106th birthday celebration at the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club meeting on April 3, 2018, in San Marcos, Calif. © Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS Dorothy Coleman smiles as she chats with a visitor during her 106th birthday celebration at the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club meeting on April 3, 2018, in San Marcos, Calif.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - In 1912, Oreo cookies, Cracker Jack and the Girl Scouts were born. So was Dorothy "Dottie" Coleman, who marked her 106th birthday Tuesday with her family in Oceanside.

Coleman was guest of honor at a birthday luncheon hosted by members of the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club, who have become like a second family to the centenarian since she first volunteered her services as club pianist in 2012.

Tuesday's party featured a Dorothy trivia game, youth performances, a city proclamation and a birthday sing-along, but the highlight for many was Coleman's own brief cameo behind the keyboard.

To kick off the festivities, club past president Jerry Mason coaxed Coleman into playing her favorite song, the 1954 classic "Fly Me to the Moon."

When asked afterward why she liked the song so much, she quipped that the moon is one of the few places she has yet to visit.

Although she has traveled to Africa, India and Australia in her later years, Coleman has been slowing down since breaking both hips in the past five years.

Eighteen months ago, she gave up her longtime home in Lake San Marcos and moved in with her daughter, Pat Coleman, and granddaughter Cinda Smits, who share a house in Oceanside. Although she was just over a bout with pneumonia, Coleman was in high spirits Tuesday.

"This is a wonderful day and it's a wonderful feeling that so many nice people have shown me so much kindness over the years," she said.

When asked her secrets to a long life, one is heredity. Her great-grandmother had 12 children and lived well into her 90s. A second secret is doing everything in moderation. And the third is a positive attitude that springs from her happy childhood in the great outdoors.

"Growing up in the country with fresh air and open space have something to do with it," she said.

Born Dorothy Jones, she was the youngest of three children of German-Americans Elmer and Mabel Jones of New Park, Penn. She started playing piano at age 5 and was always the apple of everyone's eye, according to her daughter Pat Coleman.

"She was adored," Pat said. "She's a person who liked performing and enjoyed the adoration. Whenever she's out in public, she's always happy."

After attending a teacher's college in Baltimore, Dorothy got a job teaching grade-school children on a military base. Not long after that, she met her future husband, Lester Coleman, at a dance.

"She was a country girl and he was this city boy, a rebel without a cause from Baltimore," said Pat, their only child.

The Colemans married in 1934 and were together 62 years until his death in 1996.

a group of people standing on top of a cutting board with a cake: Pianist Dorothy Coleman, center, celebrates her 106th birthday at the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club meeting with club member Jerry Mason, left, San Marcos Vice Mayor Rebecca Jones and musicians Andre Ricardo and Claire Lewis on April 3, 2018, in San Marcos, Calif. © Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS Pianist Dorothy Coleman, center, celebrates her 106th birthday at the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club meeting with club member Jerry Mason, left, San Marcos Vice Mayor Rebecca Jones and musicians Andre Ricardo and Claire Lewis on April 3, 2018, in San Marcos, Calif.

Pat Coleman said the highlight of her mother's life was in the early 1950s, when Lester's job in the military took the family to Vienna, Austria. There, Dorothy studied with a piano master and learned to paint.

After he retired from the service, Dorothy went back to teaching. At Fort Ord in Monterey, she helped servicemen study to earn their high school diplomas. In their retirement years, the Colemans lived in Alabama and Florida.

But as Lester's health declined, the couple wanted to live closer to their daughter and grandchildren, so they relocated in 1996 to Lake San Marcos. Not long after the move, Lester died, Pat said.

In her 80s and 90s, Coleman remained active, traveling the world, taking classes in music and writing and volunteering her piano services to the Kiwanis club and a local youth orchestra.

At age 100, Coleman passed her driver's exam for a four-year license extension, but a broken hip forced her to give up her license a year later. In recent years, Mason has volunteered his services as her driver and said he feels like the lucky one in the arrangement.

"I love to joke with her," Mason said, "because she brightens up my life."

Kiwanis club member Pat Haugen got choked up Tuesday when asked what she loves about Coleman.

"She is always happy and always smiling," Haugen said. "You just feel good when you walk away after seeing her."

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