Ask Irving Mann who was president the year of his birth and he will casually remark, “Wasn’t it Taft?”
No, he’s not kidding.
Born in 1912, Mann turned 104 on Dec. 22 at the historic Bay Oaks Assisted Living Facility, located just east of Biscayne Boulevard on Northeast 34th Street. And to many residents at Bay Oaks, he certainly still is the man.
“He’s very funny and while he doesn’t see very well, he’s very aware of all of his surroundings,” says Patricia Gillin, a fellow Bay Oaks resident who eats meals with Mann on a daily basis. “He’s got a good appetite and gets along with everyone quite well.”
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Joining him to celebrate at Bay Oaks were his two beaming daughters, Carole Horowitz and Vicki Katz, as well as Vicki’s husband, Hardy, all longtime South Florida residents. The celebration included birthday cake and a birthday chorus from the Bay Oaks staff and residents. This was Mann’s second birthday celebration of the week as his extended family celebrated the previous weekend because of conflicting work schedules.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Vicki Katz said. “He still is so active and interacts with everybody. It’s quite remarkable. A few days ago I told him, ‘Dad you’re going to be 104 in a few days,’ and he responded with, ‘I wouldn’t shoot craps on that one.’”
It is Mann’s witty humor that has remained with him throughout the years, and makes him a favorite at Bay Oaks.
“Irving should donate his brain one day, because he remains so bright,” says Toni Vernier, a two-year resident at Bay Oaks.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Mann worked in Manhattan as a pattern maker in a clothing factory. He and his wife, Helen, raised their two daughters and moved to South Florida with them and their teenage children in 1977. After Helen died in 2001, he moved in with Horowitz. He’s been at Bay Oaks about a year and a half.
“We put him in the facility when he was 102, but we didn’t anticipate him living this long,” Katz said. “He’s even had hip replacement at 95 and survived.”
Mann’s longevity surprises him, as well.
“It beats me. My mom died when she was 47, my dad when he was 62. They lived through many problems, the wars, the Depression; it was a tough time,” Mann said.
“I’ve lived an uneventful life,” he jokes.
Here are some of the “insignificant” historical events that Mann has lived through: Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution, both World Wars, the invention of penicillin and television, all but four years of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought, and the Great Depression. When Donald Trump is inaugurated next month, Mann will have lived through 18 U.S. presidents.
Who was his favorite president?
“That guy from New York … FDR,” he said.
While Mann’s parents didn’t live to old age, his siblings did. Sister Freda lived to be 102; his younger brother, Frank, to age 92; and his older brother, Harry, was still swimming 50 laps a day at the pool until he died at age 95, according to Katz.
Mann retains that active lifestyle that his siblings displayed. His daily routine includes small exercises consisting of two-pound bicep curls and leg raisers, according to son-in-law Hardy, who visits with Mann’s daughters up to three times a week. On Saturdays he even ventures out with them to his favorite New York deli, Roasters and Toasters, to “see the real world.” His favorite activity, however, is his late-morning sit on the porch, where he enjoys the breeze and soaks in the Florida sun.
To Vicki Katz, it is her father’s positive mentality that has allowed him to live so long.
“He really loves life … he has a great philosophy of getting up in the morning and being happy and carefree. And he loves his family as well. When we ask him, ‘Dad, how are you feeling?’ he’ll say, ‘You’re here now, I’m great.’ ”
As for the next birthday, Katz remains hopeful. She refers to a line from a Frank Sinatra song, “And if you should survive to 105, look at all you’ll derive out of being alive.”
The song: “Young at Heart.”