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One of Illinois’ finest residents shares secret to longevity at 110th birthday bash

Juanita Mitchell celebrated becoming one of the world’s newest supercentenarians Sunday with a party at the Olympia Fields Country Club.

Juanita Mitchell celebrated becoming one of the world’s newest supercentenarians Sunday with a party at the Olympia Fields Country Club.
Juanita Mitchell celebrated becoming one of the world’s newest supercentenarians Sunday with a party at the Olympia Fields Country Club.
Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Juanita Mitchell was dressed to the nines Sunday afternoon, wearing a gold sparkly dress and red fur coat along with fancy satin gloves and a tiara. And for good reason — it’s not very often one becomes a supercentenarian.

Though she celebrated her 110th birthday Wednesday with a small gathering at her daughter’s home, Mitchell was surprised Sunday with a much grander event at the Olympia Fields Country Club.

“Wonderful” is how Mitchell described the party, which required all attendees to wear masks and show proof of vaccination.

This year’s milestone birthday puts Mitchell, a long-time Chicago resident before moving to Flossmoor in 1996, in the company of an elite group of people known as supercentenarians.

The Gerontology Research Group, which manages the World Supercentenarian Ranking Lists, estimates there’s 300 to 450 living people worldwide who are considered supercentenarians, or people who live to be 110 or older. In the U.S., there’s likely 60 to 75 people who are in that class.

Mitchell can think of only one reason why she’s lived so long.

“I have no idea other than God,” Mitchell said. “God has kept me safe all these years.”

Juanita Mitchell blows a kiss at her 110th birthday celebration Sunday.
Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Mary Muse predicted her mother would credit her faith for her long life, but she also had another theory to Mitchell’s longevity.

“She has always been active,” Muse, 68, said. “She’s never been idle even though she didn’t have to work.”

Even well into her 100s, Mitchell refused to slow down. There were times when Muse would find her mother shoveling snow outside their Flossmoor home. One time, a neighbor had called Muse to tell her they spotted Mitchell on a ladder.

“I don’t have any idea what she was doing out there,” Muse said with a laugh.

Friends and family recalled fond memories of Mitchell, including her famous gumbo.

“She is one of the most amazing people ever,” said Janice Phillips, a childhood friend of Muse who lives around the corner from the mother and daughter. “She’s aged with so much grace and so much personality. It’s a privilege to know her.”

“When you have your heart where you care for others and you want to make a difference in other’s lives, God blesses you, and I really think that He has blessed my mother,” Muse said. “I certainly know she’s made a difference in my life [along with] the many people that she’s touched.”

Mary Muse comforted her mother as she looked at dozens of flower bouquets she was gifted at her 110th birthday bash.
Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times