A 100-year-old man chalks up his longevity to empathy, passion for music, and eating half-portions

  • Roger Wonson reached his milestone 100th birthday in April 2024.

  • The retired engineer celebrated by giving a performance on the drums.

  • He said a love of music extends your life and shared other longevity tips with Business Insider.

When Roger Wonson celebrated his 100th birthday with friends at his care facility, he provided the entertainment.

The retired engineer, who reached the milestone on April 20, 2024, hit the drums as leader of the band The Current Voltage, which plays everything from jazz and swing to rock 'n' roll.

"I get a lot of kicks from music," Wonson told Business Insider. "It's always made me happy."

He said his passion had helped give him a positive attitude, mostly because he enjoyed entertaining others.

A man cuts his 100th birthday cake
Wonson's 100th birthday cake resembled a drum kit complete with a cymbal.The Current Beverly

"It's great when you see people singing along and tapping their toes," he said.

Wonson took center stage at his party alongside bandmate Michelle Boudreau, 39, an activities coordinator, who performed vocals and guitar.

Wonson is happy not to conform to the stereotype of someone at his advanced age

A third member of the band — another resident of the care home — will officially join once the center acquires a piano.

The great-grandfather of nine said he was proud not to fit the stereotype of how an older man should look and behave. He chalked up his longevity to good genes (his mom almost made 100, and his dad reached 90) and a fun outlook.

He said people who want to lead long, fulfilling lives might appreciate some of his tips.

Show empathy

Wonson said the secret to strong relationships is empathy.

"It's easy to become confrontational if you don't put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to see their perspective," he said.

A better approach is to consider their side of the argument instead of doubling down on your own.

The senior said his 75-year-long marriage thrived on empathy.

"My wife and I always listened to each other and respected each other's point of view," he said of his spouse, Mary Sue, who died in 2022 at the age of 100.

"We avoided confrontation and played fair."

Wonson said it was important to think hard before you open your mouth and say something you regret.

A black and white photo of an older couple dancing
Wonson and his wife, Mary Sue. She died at the age of 100 in 2022.Courtesy of Roger Wonson

"Be careful what you say to those around you because you can't take anything back once it's been said," he added.

He said that he tried to emanate his father, who, he said, "never lost his temper or said anything mean."

He told BI that congeniality was key to a stress-free, healthy existence because "tension diminishes the miraculous control of our immune system."

Find a passion

Wonson, a communications specialist, built a successful career after World War II when he left the US Air Force to work for a company that developed missiles for the government.

But he didn't let his 40-year job define him. He established himself as a talented musician — including being employed as a professional vocalist — and spent as much time as possible on personal interests.

He played saxophone and drums in several bands in his home state of Massachusetts. "I love the rhythm, the tone of the saxophone, and the sound of the brush," he said. When you entertain people, you derive pleasure from their pleasure."

The centenarian — who once owned more than 40 saxophones — doesn't limit his passions to music.

He said he continued to keep his mind sharp by photographing still life and listening to Ted Talks. His favorite TV shows are PBS documentaries, especially wildlife series.

Eat light, drink water, and exercise with weights

The 100-year-old, who quit tennis as a sport just 15 years ago, refuses to be sedentary. He has devised his own exercise regimen, lifting weights above his head.

"I'll do a few sets during the commercial breaks on TV," he said, adding, "It's important to keep your muscle tone.

Still, he is careful not to overdo it. He recently swapped his 3-pound dumbbells for 1-pound on the advice of an expert.

Wonson said another reason to exercise was to protect his balance. "I fell around three months ago but didn't break any bones," he told BI.

"Since then, I've been working on my stability," he said. "Because if I fall again, it's the beginning of the end."

He joked that his youngest great-grandchild, Declan, 2, shared his goal. "We're in the same situation," he said of the toddler. "But, when he topples over, he gets up quicker."

A saxophonist wearing a red jacket performing in a band
Wonson played the saxophone and loved the big band sound.Courtesy of Roger Wonson

As for his diet, he said that the chef at his care facility, The Current Beverly, serves him half portions of food.

"I don't eat a lot," Wonson said. He makes sure to eat vegetables and rarely eats dessert. "If I do, it's in very small amounts."

He is aware of the particular dangers of older people becoming dehydrated. "People recommend drinking eight glasses of water a day to keep everything functioning," he said. "I think eight is a bit too much to manage, but I make sure to drink a lot of water with every meal."

Meanwhile, he indulges in the occasional glass of wine. "I like zinfandel because it's sweet. But it's true what they say about moderation."

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