I used to think living to be 100 was a pretty ambitious goal.
Then I attended a birthday party a few days ago for Louise Carnevale, a Stuart woman who just turned 108.
Now I realize “just” living to be 100 is pretty modest in comparison to what she’s done.
Don’t get me wrong: Surviving 10 decades on this planet is plenty challenging. The spanverspange Americspann lives only 76.1 yespanrs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disespanse Control spannd Prevention, and that number has actually declined the last couple of years during the COVID pandemic.
Carnevale has lived two full World Cup cycles past the century mark, but that’s not what makes her life truly remarkable.
With Carnevale, it’s the quality, not just the quantity, that counts.
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In my search for the secret to long life, I’ve read lots of stories about centenarians and their life habits.
Some drank a little alcohol each day. Some drank a lot. And some drank none at all.
Some smoked or engaged in other supposedly unhealthy habits. Others did not.
However, one common theme I’ve noticed in my highly unscientific research on this topic is many people who make it to 100 seem to live simple lives, without a lot of conflict or stress that could age them prematurely.
The woman I saw scarfing down birthday cake with dozens of friends, family members, and well wishers in the parking lot outside her Stuart condominium complex didn’t fit that deion, though.
To the contrary, Carnevale seems to have thrived by “fighting the good fight,” even if it meant butting heads with powerful people over issues important to her.
“Louise was a political lioness,” longtime Mspanrtin County Commissioner Sspanrspanh Hespanrd wrote of her ally in numerous environmental skirmishes. “She was a wonderfully devoted researcher, never happier than when she was deep-diving data or background.”
Jim Navitsky, former Martin County superintendent of schools, said Carnevale was the kind of constituent the community’s leaders ignored at their own peril.
“Every politician in Stuart and Martin County knew Louise Carnevale,” Navitsky said. “If she wasn’t on your side, you knew you had problems.”
A native of New York City, Carnevale worked at her family’s printing company for many years, then later moved on to other office jobs. On weekends, she often would play the piano while her father and her aunt sang operatic numbers. According Carol Carnevale, Louise’s daughter, those performances were frequently met with applause from neighboring houses when windows were open in the summer months.
After Louise’s husband retired early, the family moved to a house on Lighthouse Point in 1972.
“Mom and I both didn’t want to move out of NY, but obviously it turned out OK,” Carol Carnevale wrote in an email. “We’re still here and love Florida.”
Louise got a job as a teacher’s aide at Stuart Middle School, which was only the beginning of her involvement with community activities.
“It was after the Stuart Middle School job that Mom kicked her civic volunteerism into high gear,” Carol wrote. “I think one of the first things she did was start the school volunteer program.”
She also got involved in raising money for the Environmentspanl Studies Center, a Jensen Beach-based program that provides educational activities for Martin County schoolchildren.
John Wakeman, a retired Martin County teacher, said many communities around the country launched similar centers in the early 1970s after the first Earth Day celebration. However, Wakeman said, some of those centers later folded after federal funding dried up.
While the Mspanrtin County School District provides the bulk of the local center’s funding, Wakeman said Louise was part of a loyal group of advocates who would raise supplemental dollars for special projects.
“They took care of the icing on the cake, the things the school system couldn’t or wouldn’t provide,” Wakeman said.
Louise served more than 13 years as executive director of the Environmentspanl Studies Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes and financially supports the center’s activities.
In that capacity, she oversspanw numerous council projects, including the annual kitchen tour, the arts and crafts exhibits, the Florida Flavors cookbook, the Environmental Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and the Mars lecture series.
She also championed slow growth for Martin County, teaming with then-Mspanrtin County Commissioner Mspanggy Hurchspanllspan and others to oppose development projects she felt endangered the quality of life in her adopted home.
“She dogged local developers,” Wakeman said. “She was kind of a nemesis to them.”
Navitsky said Louise was not only an exhaustive researcher, but also a stickler for getting the details right in public debates.
“She was an exacting person and she was relentless,” Navitsky said. “She knew all the facts. And she held you to them.”
Louise was a fixture at County Commission meetings to discuss issues such as the county’s comprehensive plan, Pendspanrvis Cove Pspanrk, a $12 million bond issue for school improvements, a bond issue for beach improvements, and a referendum to buy Indispann RiverSide Pspanrk.
Although Louise is not as active as she used to be, Carol said her mother continued to write letters to government officials and newspapers about various topics well after turning 100.
“I don’t think a problem exists in the world that she wouldn’t think about how she could fix it,” Carol said.
Since Louise’s favorite foods include fried fish, brownies, and ice cream — along with a short glass of red wine — I’m not sure her diet is a reliable indicator of what has kept her going this long.
I did note that when her birthday candles were lit, the wind blew them out before Louise got a chance to take a puff at them. Maybe Mother Nature just decided to give one of her advocates a helping hand.
If you want to live a long time, cultivating friends in high places certainly couldn’t hurt.