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December 18, 2012

Family, friends and active life keep centenarian young at heart

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Former longtime Grosse Pointer Dorothy Denomme, who remains active in the community, will celebrate her 100th birthday Dec. 25 with a party attended by family and friends Dec. 22. She is pictured here inside her St. Clair Shores condo, where she lives independently.

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Like many other families throughout metro Detroit, the Denommes will be celebrating Christmas together. But what makes this year more special than Christmases past is the fact that family matriarch Dorothy Denomme will turn 100 on Christmas Day.

The longtime Grosse Pointer, who now lives in a St. Clair Shores condo, will mark this milestone with a special party in her honor Dec. 22 at the Assumption Cultural Center in St. Clair Shores. John Denomme, of Grosse Pointe Woods, the second-youngest of Dorothy Denomme’s eight children, said about 150 people are expected to attend the party, including his siblings — some of whom no longer live in Michigan.

“It’s not very often that all eight children are together,” John Denomme said, saying this usually only happens about once every 10 years.

Even more remarkable is Dorothy Denomme herself, a fashionable woman who looks decades younger than her chronological age, meets friends for coffee every Monday in the Village, remains active in the Grosse Pointe Questers and with her church, St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, and still drives “very competently,” John Denomme said.

Dorothy Denomme was born Dec. 25, 1912, in what was then the resort town of New Baltimore, in the same house where her mother was born. She was the oldest of three daughters; both of her sisters died within months of each other two years ago. She said the family moved when she was 2 and she grew up in Detroit, where her father was an elevator starter for the Hammond Building Company and worked in the summer at Electric Park, an amusement park that was located between Jefferson and East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, the site today of apartments and a park. Relatives have said she’s a female version of her father, Bart Lane, who used to take her to baseball games and instilled in her a lifelong love of the Detroit Tigers. He died at age 96, she said.

“My father was outgoing and he knew a lot about history,” Dorothy Denomme said. “He was a people person, and I guess I am, too.”

In 1933, she married Gerald Denomme, and she worked in the dry cleaning business he launched until she had her first child three years later. The family moved from Detroit to Grosse Pointe Park to the Farms and Woods as they grew, she said. The Denommes eventually expanded to a family of five sons and three daughters, and when her husband retired in 1971, son Bill Denomme took over Upper Mack Cleaners in Grosse Pointe Farms, which he ran until 2006, she said. Dorothy Denomme said her husband died in 1993.

“Most of my adult life, we lived in Grosse Pointe,” she said. “A lot of my children were born at Bon Secours,” which is now Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe.

She doesn’t have a computer, but Dorothy Denomme keeps up with the news and current events, and said she enjoys reading. She visits her daughters in Arizona and Florida whenever she can, and loves spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the latter of whom range in age from 25 to eight months.

Until recently, she was a lector at daily Masses at St. Paul, where she also gave communion to the sick. Although she’s able to walk independently, without a cane, she said knee problems have rendered her somewhat less mobile than she used to be. She had knee replacement surgery on one knee about four years ago.

“I’ve been very active,” Dorothy Denomme said. “After my husband died, I began to do a lot of volunteer work at my church. I made new friends because … (at 100), I’ve outlived all of the people we knew and used to visit with and play cards with.”

A former president of Chapter 157 of the Grosse Pointe Questers, she said she remains involved with that group as well; they meet once a month. John Denomme said his mom attends nearly all of the Music on the Plaza summer outdoor jazz concerts he organizes in the Village. Some of those musicians will be performing at her party, he said.

“I try very hard not to listen to music that was written after 1960,” said Dorothy Denomme, adding that her favorite artists include Dean Martin and Eddie Arnold. She’s a fan of classic movies as well.

But while she’s a history buff and her entertainment preferences may be from previous decades, “I don’t live in the past,” Dorothy Denomme said. She said she went on a couple of senior trips years ago, but “I decided then that senior citizenship wasn’t for me. I’ve never allowed myself to become a senior citizen.”

John Denomme said he loves spending time with his mom.

“It’s not a chore,” he said. “It’s invigorating and inspirational to be talking to someone who’s as vital as the rest of us. … She’s a fun person to hang out with.”

He said his mother instilled in her children the importance of family from an early age. She also showed them how to stay young.

John Denomme said his mother has taught them to “keep your mind engaged, because your mind can atrophy from not being used just like any other part of your body.”

Access to good medical care and remaining active are what Dorothy Denomme attributes to keeping her young as she approaches a century. And she’s always up for a new adventure.

“I get dressed every day so in case somebody wants to do something or go somewhere, I’m always ready,” Dorothy Denomme said. “And I have a lot of fun with my family.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.