105-year-old Maui-born woman beats COVID-19

She attributes long life to ‘hard knocks’ and ‘no junk food’

Lucia DeClerck is pictured on Oahu in an undated photo. The now-105 year-old New Jersey resident was born on Maui. Photos courtesy DeClerck family

At 105 years old, Maui-born Lucia DeClerck has plenty to celebrate — she just hit a milestone birthday, she beat COVID-19 and she’s now lived through two global pandemics.

DeClerck, who attended school and church at St. Anthony in Wailuku in the early 1900s and now resides in New Jersey, tested positive for COVID-19 on her 105th birthday on Jan. 25.

Her eldest son, Henry Laws III, who lives about 15 miles away from his mother’s care home, said they kept the faith that their family matriarch would be OK after she came down with the virus.

“Knowing my mother, the family . . . we all bet on her,” he said.

DeClerck lived through the 1918 Spanish flu at the age of 2, has seen both World Wars and the civil rights movement, been married three times and had three sons, six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren. She’s battled heart failure, a lung infection and now COVID-19.

Lucia DeClerck (center) is flanked by her two surviving sons, Henry Laws III (left) and Phillip Laws, during DeClerck’s 104th birthday celebration last year. One year later, DeClerck marked her 105th birthday and beat COVID-19.

Laws said via phone from New Jersey last week that part of his mother’s longevity could be attributed to “drinking a concoction she made up” of gin and raisins, aloe vera juice, apple cider and other ingredients. He called it a “concoction of stuff nobody else would drink.”

“If you try to take it away from her, you get a fight,” Laws said.

DeClerck had to go into quarantine when diagnosed with COVID-19 but has since recovered. Laws said his mother didn’t have any symptoms. She received her second COVID-19 vaccine shot on Jan. 24, a day before she tested positive.

Her story has been picked up by news outlets across the country, including The New York Times, though DeClerck said last week that she wasn’t quite enjoying all the media attention. But Michael Neiman, the administrator at her rehabilitation and nursing center in Little Egg Harbor, N.J., pointed out that it was a feat that she beat COVID-19.

Having to be isolated from others was what bothered DeClerck the most while she had COVID-19, as she likes to talk and socialize with the other residents at the Mystic Meadows Rehab and Nursing Center, Neiman said as he stood bedside his most popular resident during a FaceTime call.

Lucia DeClerck wears a muumuu in Hawaii in an undated photo. The former Maui and Oahu resident, now 105 and living in New Jersey, recovered from COVID-19 and has survived two pandemics.

Wearing sunglasses and a beanie and clutching a wooden cross and her rosary, DeClerck attributed her longevity to “hard knocks” and “no junk food,” though she admitted she does enjoy some See’s Candies. A devout Catholic, DeClerck has said in other interviews that what also keeps her going is prayer.

While DeClerck lived on Oahu as a young girl, she attended grade school at Sacred Hearts Academy. As an adult she attended Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu. She was also a frequent visitor to the Mass at the Fort DeRussy Chapel in Waikiki.

When asked if she missed anything about Hawaii, DeClerck said, “Honey, I regret that I ever left there.”

DeClerck was born Lucia Lopez in Wailuku in 1916 to a Guatemalan mother, Flora Vargas Pereira, who lived in Belize until 1911 when her Portuguese father and Belizean mother uprooted their children and immigrated to Kauai.

Four years later while on a trip to Honolulu, Pereira met and fell in love with Antonio Vidol Lopez, an immigrant from Vigo, Spain. He worked as an orderly at Queen’s Medical Center.

They moved to Maui, but found out “their marriage was not to be,” said DeClerck’s granddaughter, Deanna Marshall, who has studied the family’s genealogy and has traveled the Hawaiian islands to learn more about the family’s history.

Vargas Pereira became a chef and worked for wealthy families in Maui, Oahu, California and Wyoming. DeClerck sometimes lived with her mother but preferred the structure and routine of attending school with her cousins at St. Anthony, Marshall said.

The family has relatives buried in the church’s cemetery in Wailuku, said Marshall, who lives in Washington state and is a former Hawaii island resident. Some cousins still live in the islands.

DeClerck married in California and had three sons — Henry Laws III, Joe Laws, who is deceased, and Phillip Laws. She returned to Honolulu in 1963, living there for 31 years and working as a personal home care aide. She was later hired by the state of Hawaii as a home care aide for multiple patients.

While on Oahu, DeClerck and her mother would host their grandchildren and great-grandchildren for big family get-togethers.

“We had family luaus, and fish fries on the beach and she insisted we try everything served at least once. She has a way of letting us be completely free to just be a part of nature on the island,” said DeClerck’s granddaughter, Denise Laws-Jackson. “She took us to explore caves, swim, surf, play with koi at Ala Moana Center and dance the hula in the afternoons.”

In 1994, DeClerck moved to New Jersey to be closer to her eldest son. She lived on her own at an independent living facility in South Jersey, where she coordinated monthly Holy Communion for her local parish.

She later moved to the Mystic Meadows facility, where she spearheaded a weekly Mass prior to the pandemic.

One of DeClerck’s grandchildren, 53-year-old Shawn Laws O’Neil, called her grandmother an “inspiration.”

“Such strength. Such resilience. Such a strong faith in God. Our two hearts are forever permanently knit together,” O’Neil said. “We are abundantly fortunate to still have her with us at 105.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.


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