Let’s start by accepting a simple premise.

Let’s start by accepting a simple premise.

If you were born when World War I raged, Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and lived to see Donald Trump elected president, well, a crown might be in order.

Cleo Bess was crowned, corsaged, proclaimed, read to, hugged, kissed and serenaded last week at the Gulf County Senior Citizens Center in Port St. Joe as she celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Bess said, balloons hovering and crown affixed atop her head. “Look at what I am getting today.

“Some people are ashamed of their age, but not me. As long as the good Lord lets me, I will be over here Monday through Friday.”

That’s correct, age is just a number when it comes to Cleo Bess, with the gathering pretty much expressing a conviction that this whole birthday party thing for years to come.

“She is like an odometer; from here she just turns back over to 1,” said Russ Scholz, executive director of Gulf County Senior Citizens.

And like an odometer, maybe more accurately a clock, Cleo Bess is out at the Senior Citizens Center on Library Drive every day.

She may tote a biscuit from McDonald’s with her, Scholz noted, but she is ready for the hot lunch served each day after just a brief respite.

“I’ve kidded her about whether she has a hollow leg or not,” Scholz said.

Other than a recent period when Bess was tussling with a respiratory infection, she is a mainstay.

“She is our most faithful member,” Scholz said. “We are just so please to have her with us and hope we do this another time.”

Bess has also been a faithful member of her community.

“She is a special lady, just wonderful,” said Cystal Follin, who teaches arts and crafts at the Senior Center every Wednesday.

Bess was a long-time Sunday School teacher at Zion Fair Baptist Church and was an early driver of the community mental health coalition that ultimately would transform into Life Management.

“Her mind is there, her sense of humor,” said Ned Ailes with Life Management. “She served our community well. She is very intelligent, very caring, very passionate, very strong of faith.”

That faith, that sense of community, of reaching the young and providing any boost forward, was such a strong part of her makeup, such a legacy, that the city of Port St. Joe proclaimed Dec. 21, 2016 as “Cleo Bess Day.”

In addition to the proclamation, read by Mayor Bo Patterson, letters from Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Gov. Rick Scott were read to Cleo, followed by a rousing round of “Happy Birthday.”

“She’s been a blessing to me,” said County Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr., who grew up on Avenue C, that same street Cleo Bess called home for decades.

“She was my Sunday School teacher and a pillar in the neighborhood that raised me,” Quinn said.

That sense of community remains, echoed in the answer to the question of what is the secret of reaching 100.

“Trust in the Lord, trust in the Lord,” Bess said. “I was told a long time ago to treat every person like you’d want to be treated.

“You don’t have to agree with them, or like them or invite them to dinner, but you should respect them enough to say hello or goodbye.”

Wise words at, and in, any age.