At 107 years old, Damiana B. Juan - who could be Maui's oldest living person - said her secret to living a long life is believing in God.
And her youngest daughter, Teresita Martin, agrees.
Damiana B. Juan blows out the candles on her birthday cake marking 107 years Friday at Maui Adult Day Care Center in Kahului. Juan’s actual birthday was Saturday. Looking on (from left) are daughter Teresita “Tessie” Martin, the center’s program supervisor, former center program director Mercedes Neri and volunteer Kyra McMillan.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"She's close to him," Martin said of her mother's belief in the Catholic faith and God.
Martin, who translated a reporter's questions into Ilocano for her mother, recalls that her mother back in the Philippines would go house to house in her neighborhood to pray. Her mother was able to memorize hours of Catholic prayers.
Apparently Juan's strong faith may indeed be a key to her longevity, as the former midwife celebrated her 107th birthday on Saturday with friends and family.
On Friday, staff and friends at the Maui Adult Day Care Center in Kahului, celebrated Juan's birthday complete with cake and lei.
"I'm just happy she's alive, and she's doing OK," Martin said in an interview at the day care center.
Martin said that when her mother turned 101, she didn't believe it, so she checked her mother's passport to be sure. And her age was correct.
Several Maui officials who care for the elderly seem to think that Juan could be one of the oldest living people on the Valley Isle.
"As far as I know, she is the oldest . . . I would guess she is (the oldest)," said Sandy Freeman, executive director of the Maui Adult Day Care Centers.
But she cautioned, "we really don't know who's out there."
Elinor Takahashi, information outreach supervisor for the county's Office on Aging said: "We don't have anyone close to that age."
Takahashi said the office has a database of 10,034 seniors in Maui County. It is made up of those who have called in for information and requested services. It could include duplicate names or errors, she said.
Officials from Kula Hospital and Kaunoa Senior Services also say they do not have any patients or clients older than Juan.
Juan was born Sept. 22, 1905, in the small city of Laoag in the Philippines.
Her husband, Agustin Juan, a farmer, died in 1947, leaving her to take care of four children.
Martin said her mother used to earn money by washing people's clothing because there weren't any washing machines back then.
Martin said she recalls that her mother had a sixth sense when it came to babies.
"She knew when the baby is in distress. I think she's gifted with that," she said.
In 1975, Juan who was 70 at the time, moved to Maui to be with her children, who had moved here earlier.
"She came to baby-sit," Martin said.
Juan never quite learned English and still speaks Ilocano. She does have a hard time hearing, but can still walk, Martin said.
Juan doesn't take any medication and has no signs of Alzheimer's or dementia, Martin said, adding that her mother is coherent when she speaks to her.
When asked what she is most proud of in her life, Juan said through Martin that she didn't know.
Martin said she thinks her mother is happy to be in Hawaii with her children and that she doesn't have to work hard anymore.
Juan has three other children on Maui. They are her two other daughters, Adela Villanueva and Angelina Lapid, both of Kahului, and a son, Mamerto Juan of Kihei.
Damiana Juan has 20 grandchildren, 35-great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.
Martin said that she remembers her mother telling her that when she was young, people used to say that one day "people will be traveling by air."
She added that when her mother was young no one would have watches and instead would use the sun to tell time.
Although the world has changed around her, a thing that has stayed constant for Juan is her long hair.
On Thursday, her long silver hair was up in a bun.
"She don't like to cut her hair," Martin said.
Martin said her late husband used to tease her mother and say, "Why you want to marry again?"
A unique trait Juan has, is the ability to heal and solve problems, her family said.
Juan used to heal people's skin rashes by using products from a special type of lemon, said Juan's granddaughter, Rosemarie Fitzsimmons, a lead program specialist at the adult care center where Juan spends her days.
Juan used to babysit Fitzsimmons in the Philippines.
Fitzsimmons recalled that her grandmother could help people find missing things.
She and Martin said Juan had a special ring she used to place in a glass of water.
Juan would ask yes or no questions to the ring. If the answer to the question was yes, the ring would move. If the answer was no, the ring would not move.
Martin said people used to come over to the Juan home so her mother could help them find their lost caribou and other personal items.
Martin is very happy to care for her mother, she said. Her husband died recently so her mother is her constant companion.
"I'm just happy to check (up on her) in the morning," Martin said.
* Managing Editor Lee Imada contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.