JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. It's an exclusive club where members pay no dues. There's no meeting hall, not even a secret handshake. The only requirement for membership is longevity.
The Missouri Century Club was created in the mid-1980s to recognize Missourians who are age 100 or older. Members receive a letter from the governor and a declaration from the lieutenant governor, the official state advocate for the elderly.
Ann Schweer, of Jefferson City, born on May 13, 1900, in Windsor, Mo., said she was honored to become a member when she hit 100 three years ago.
''I found out that you have to be 100 years old if you're going to get any attention,'' said Schweer, who taught in Jefferson City for 37 years and lives in a nursing home. ''I had waited all these years as a school teacher, and now I'm famous.''
Created in 1986 by then-Gov. John Ashcroft, it's unclear how many people have joined the Century Club because the names of members are removed after they die. The current roster names 81 centenarians.
Dawn Pittman, the club's coordinator for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the program has become more well-known in the past year, since the application for the club has appeared on Gov. Bob Holden's Web site.
Where once Pittman would receive one or two applications every three months, she said she receives about five applications a month.
''Most of them are such amazing people, all the things they've seen and accomplished,'' she said.
The 2000 Census showed Missouri had 1,129 people who were 100 or older; there were more than 50,000 nationwide. The population of 100 year olds likely has grown since then, said Ryan Burson, the state demographer, because even though the mortality rate is high for that age group, people generally are living longer.
Government recognition of centenarians isn't unique to Missouri.
In Utah, the governor hosts an annual luncheon in celebration of centenarians. In Iowa, new centenarians receive an invitation to an awards luncheon at the annual Governor's Conference on Aging and a certificate signed by the governor and the director of the Department of Elder Affairs.
At the federal level, the threshold for recognition is a little lower. A person who reaches the age of 80 can request a formal recognition of their milestone from the president through the White House Greetings Office.
In letters to Missouri centenarians, the governor and first lady Lori Hauser Holden praise those who have been part of so much history.
''Your accomplishments and experience have added to the wealth of knowledge of this great state,'' Holden writes in the letters. ''We wish you the joy that comes from living with family and friends and the respect and admiration for all you know.''
Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, whose office issues the formal membership declaration, said the program is a quality-of-life issue and a way to recognize a person's contributions to the state.
''It is a moment in time for them to be recognized,'' Maxwell said. ''It is also, hopefully, about instilling in the public as a whole a respect for our seniors.''
On the Net:
Governor's Office: http://www.gov.state.mo.us
Department of Health and Senior Services: http://www.dhss.state.mo.us
White House Greetings Office: http://www.whitehouse.gov/greeting/
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