Local resident feels great as 10th decade approaches

Courtesy Jana Botelho  Phyllis De La Vergne turned 99 last Saturday surrounded by four generations of her offspring. The Alameda resident maintains her health daily with walks.

Local resident feels great as 10th decade approaches


Local resident feels great as 10th decade approaches

Not everyone gets to celebrate a 99th birthday. Even fewer get to actually enjoy it. Alameda resident Phyllis De La Vergne who turned 99 on Saturday, March 11, provides some insight on how to be one of the lucky few to survive and thrive in nine decades. Here’s a few tips from De La Vergne courtesy of her granddaughter, Jana Bothelo.

  • Know how to celebrate. On her birthday weekend De La Vergne was the guest of honor at two parties: one with her longtime friends from the Mariner Square Athletic Club (where she swam five days a week until she turned 95) and another with her family. She even had some champagne. 
  • Travel a lot. In her lifetime she’s traveled to every continent of the world (except for Antarctica) sometimes twice. She’s climbed Ayers Rock in Australia, gone backpacking in the Grand Canyon, rafting in the Columbia River and has gone skydiving. When she turned 80, she went on a trip to Costa Rica and went zip-lining.  Does she have a favorite place that she’s traveled? It’s hard to say. How do you compare a temple in Tibet with the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China or the pyramids in Egypt? Even so, she says that perhaps her favorite trip was sailing to destinations in the Pacific Ocean. 
  • Swim. De La Vergne has swum and snorkeled in many waters of the world, among them the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas and throughout French Polynesia. Phyllis was born in Iowa and came to live in Alameda in her 20s. She learned how to swim in Iowa at a young age and immediately fell in love with it. She says, “I liked swimming so much in high school that I’d come home with icicles in my hair because I walked home in the snow with wet hair from swimming.”
  • Do what you love. From a young age De La Vergne wanted to be a physical education teacher. She realized her dream when she started teaching for $50 a month in Iowa. She also stoked the fires and swept the floors for her pay. 

In Alameda she taught physical education for 25 years at Encinal High School. She also worked as department head and tennis coach. She found time to serve as president of the PTA, Alameda Secondary Teachers Association, the Alameda Education Association, a golf club and a women’s tennis club. Once she retired she became very active at Mastick Senior Center and served on the board of directors for many, many years. Even now she still attends the Alameda Retired Teacher’s Association meetings once every month. 

  • Stay close to loved ones. De La Vergne has three children: Karen Botelho-Zingg, Kurt Snyder and Kyna Snyder; six grandchildren (Kurt Snyder, Des Snyder, TJ Snyder, Stacey Maloney, Cassy Stewart and Jana Botelho) and nine great-grandchildren (Kayla and Zac Maloney; Cierra and Mikai Stewart; Max, Madison and Mickey Snyder, Jasmine and Oceana Snyder). All of the family lives in or near the Bay Area. 
  • Appreciate your home town. De La Vergne made it a point to have her kids and grandkids attend the Alameda Sand Sculpture Contest every year as a tradition. All the grandkids have good memories of going to the beach in Alameda with their grandma. 
  • Stay current. “Technology has changed so much. I think that if I was much younger that I would like to use it,” said De La Vergne. Her granddaughter, Botelho, attempts to help.

“Now she knows how to ask Siri questions on my iPhone,” said Botelho. “The first thing she asked was, ‘Siri, am I too old to have a boyfriend?’ The second question she asked was, ‘Siri, can you find my granddaughter a husband?’”

According to Botelho, De La Vergne has learned to use the on-demand voice control remote for the TV. When she’s ready to watch her favorite show, she’ll say to the remote, “Survivor, please.” 

Botelho attempts to explain, “Grandma you don’t need to say ‘please,’ it’s a machine. It gets confused if you’re polite.”

  • Get plenty of exercise. “Don’t fail to get exercise,” said the former physical education teacher. “You can walk, run, skip rope or go to the gym.” 
  • It’s important to have friends. “I have so many friends from the athletic club that are so good to me now. They bring me flowers and spend time with me and they aren’t at all my age,” said De La Vergne. “I’m very lucky to have them in my life.” 
  • Keep being you. “Stay involved in life, be passionate and keep busy with social activities,” said De La Vergne. “I still walk each day; every morning and afternoon. I think if I keep walking I’ll likely make it to 100. I’m well with no disease. Of course, I’ll want a party and maybe have some champagne when I turn 100. My mom lived until she was 104 years old. Can you believe that?”



Jana Bothelo contributed to this story.