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Mar 31, 2009 7:56 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Springs woman celebrates 100th birthday

Mar 31, 2009 7:56 PM

When Winnie Denton was born in a house at 450 Old Stone Highway in Springs, a few doors down from where she lives now, William Howard Taft had just been inaugurated as the 27th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt was on his way to Africa for a post-presidency safari and construction had just begun on the RMS Titanic in Belfast.

Mrs. Denton, an active, agile centenarian, celebrated her birthday on March 25, in the home she has lived in for the past 48 years. With sparkling blue eyes that belie her age, Mrs. Denton said she finds reaching 100 to be an honor, but also seems rather unruffled by the milestone.

“I don’t feel 100,” she said, while sitting in her kitchen, as robins and cardinals fed from a bird feeder outside the window. “If you put me to a test walking around, maybe I would, but really, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 50,” she said, offering a delighted, if slightly mischievous, smile.

She said her longevity comes from a strong faith and “just living a good, clean life. I had a great husband and four great kids, two sons and two daughters.” Her only living daughter, Jane White, the youngest, sat nearby. She also has 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. At her birthday party at Montauk Downs last Sunday, four generations of women were represented—Mrs. Denton, her daughter Jane, her granddaughter Loretta and her great-granddaughter Brianna.

Mrs. Denton was the last of eight children. None of her siblings lived past 70. Her father, also born on Old Stone Highway, was a fisherman and yacht captain. She remembers lighting kerosene lamps, before anyone had electricity, and walking the dirt roads to the Springs School, in the same location it is now, with three other girls, one of whom is still alive—Clara Palmer, of Southampton. At age 9, she learned to play the organ and would play in Sunday School and take music lessons in Amagansett. She continued to play until 1986 at St. Peter’s Chapel.

Her father played the violin by ear and “in those days,” Mrs. Denton said, “they did old-fashioned square dancing. I don’t think I was more than 4 when my father taught me how to square dance.”

After graduating from eighth grade, she told her father how much she wanted to go to high school. “Well he said, ‘you have two feet, don’t you?’” Mrs. Denton recalled. After two months, “that was enough of that, as from here to the high school was quite a walk. I didn’t mind the mornings, but I didn’t like the evenings.” She said she had wanted to go to school at a music conservatory, but “I didn’t have that opportunity.” She’s happy that children have so many more opportunities now.

Talking with Mrs. Denton about her life is like time travel. She remembers ringing the St. Peter’s Chapel bell on Armistice Day when World War I ended. Her husband, Charles William Denton , who she married in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1928, bought a Ford Model-T after he established a building business in Springs.

Some years after they were married, the Great Depression hit. “My stomach used to rise and fall with the tide,” Mrs. Denton said. “There was no work and you had to do whatever you could do. Thank God we had the bay out here and we could catch clams and fish and sell a little at the market,” she said.

She remembers surviving the 1938 hurricane, while her husband was stuck out in Montauk, and when four Nazi spies landed on Atlantic Beach in Amagansett in 1942, right next to a house her 
husband was building. She also remembers the day astronauts first walked on the moon, which, as she explained it, “didn’t bother me a bit.”

As lifelong denizens of Springs, she and her husband loved spending their time on the water. “My husband used to go out in the deep water with big clam tongs, and I’d go inshore and rake and we’d be out there all day and then ship them to market,” she said.

Mr. Denton died in 1989. When he did, “I just took over and carried on,” Ms. Denton said.

“Really and truly I think the biggest changes have been in the last 20 years of my life. It seems that now every 15 minutes things change,” Mrs. Denton said.

“She’s amazed at the traffic,” Ms. White added. “She also thought that neighbors back then were a lot closer than they are now. Nowadays some of your neighbors you don’t even know,” she said.

Besides the dozens of cards and flowers from friends and family, Ms. Denton has received letters honoring her 100 years from Town Supervisor William McGintee, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. She’s still waiting for her letter from President Obama. She will also be honored for her 100 years at a Town Board meeting on Friday, April 3.

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America's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 100th year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, U. S. Navy (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, "The Day of Infamy", Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

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By TetVet68 (1), San Diego on Mar 30, 09 10:40 PM
happy birthday mrs.denton,and many more.i'm sure tetvet68 wishes you one as well.
By montauk resident (41), montauk on Mar 31, 09 8:10 PM
Mrs Denton, you make 100 look good! Congrats!!

By C Law (354), Water Mill on Apr 2, 09 10:20 AM
Great story! Cheers to you Mrs. Denton, may we all be as clearheaded and healthy as you at 100!
By RealLocal (76), Bridgehampton on Apr 3, 09 4:33 PM