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At 106, Life Is Beautiful For This San Diego Woman

Evening Edition

Above: We all strive to accomplish our goals before old age catches up with us, but for one San Diego woman, the loss of her youth -- and her eyesight - were far from a hindrance. Laura Simon had her 500-page book, "I Am Still Here," published when she was 100 years old, and legally blind. Now, she is one of the oldest living authors in the Library of Congress. As we continue our series on aging in San Diego, KPBS video journalist Katie Euphrat brings us inside the home of the 106-year-old author to hear her story.

We all strive to accomplish our goals before old age catches up with us - but for one San Diego woman, the loss of her youth are far from a hindrance.

Two days after Thanksgiving Laura Simon turns 106, and she's still setting goals for herself. The secret to her longevity, she says, “is to live as honorably as you can and to work.”

Laura Simon, one of the oldest living authors with a book in the Library of Congress, turns 106 years old on Nov. 26, 2011.
Enlarge this image

Above: Laura Simon, one of the oldest living authors with a book in the Library of Congress, turns 106 years old on Nov. 26, 2011.

Perhaps, Simon jokes, she’s been earning Mitzvahs, as they say in her Jewish faith, for all the good deeds she’s done over the last century. “I want to see life every day,” she said. “I wake up and thank God for this new day.”

Simon lives in an independent-living apartment in The Patrician senior community in La Jolla. Her one-bedroom apartment is scrupulously tidy, and the walls are covered in award-winning paintings she has made over the years. When I met with her, she was wearing a vibrant silk shirt adorned with a puka shell necklace she got in Hawaii 70 years ago, long before the shell jewelry became a fad in the '70s.

The tidy apartment and fashionable outfit are all part of the goals she says keep her going. Simon is hard of hearing - her poor eyesight makes her legally blind - but she still cleans her apartment, pays her bills on her own, and chooses her outfits from a packed walk-in closet.

“Insight doesn’t take eyesight,” she’s fond of saying.

Simon achieved one of her biggest goals when she turned 100: She published her book, titled “I Am Still Here.” Simon’s poor eyesight prevented her from physically writing, so she dictated her book into a tape recorder over nine years.

Laura Simon wrote her 500-page book, "I Am Still Here," by speaking into a tape recorder for nine years because she is legally blind. It was published in 2006 when she was 100 years old.
Enlarge this image

Above: Laura Simon wrote her 500-page book, "I Am Still Here," by speaking into a tape recorder for nine years because she is legally blind. It was published in 2006 when she was 100 years old.

“I’m very proud of this book,” Simon said.

She now spends some afternoons perched on the edge of her bed, smiling and listening to an audio recording of the finished book.

The book’s 500 pages are broken up by dozens of black-and-white photos: Simon as a 20-year-old bride; pictures of her husband of 52 years, Emanuel, who died in her arms 25 years ago; childhood photos of her son Mayo and daughter Sydelle who now have reached old age themselves now.

On the cover is an image of one of her paintings. The canvases are throughout the book; it was only recently that Simon stopped painting.

“My paintings come from the very depth of my being,” Simon said. “It gives me life. It gives me hope.”

As for her recent goals?

“I wanted to be in the Library of Congress because I was trying to reach the highest place where my book could live. Forever you might say. And I reached that goal," she said.

And Simon did more than make it to the Library of Congress: Her publisher, Montezuma Publishing, informed Simon that she is one of the oldest living authors with a book in the nation’s library.

“The rest of the authors are all gone, from the time of Washington. And my book is with all these great books,” Simon said, beaming. “The authors are gone ... as my title says on the book, I am still here.”

Positive attitude about aging has gotten Simon far.

“I’m going to be 106 years old within the next week or two, and I must say that I stopped counting my age a long, long time ago,” Simon said. “I’m much younger in spirit and in the depth of my thinking.”

Simon was born in Chicago in 1905, growing up in a poverty-stricken family.

“You have to struggle to one day be as honorable as I turned out. I was raised on the street. I ran around like a wild Indian with the kids looking for food,” Simon said.

She said she has always been and continues to be a survivor.

“I called an agent once,” Simon recalled. “He said I only want to ask you one question: 'Who would want to read your book? Why would they want to read your book?' Finally I came to and I said, 'I’m a survivor.' That’s who I am. I have survived a hundred years of living.”

Plans for her 106th birthday party are in the works, and Simon is reflecting on enjoying life now, instead of just surviving it.

“I must say all the bad things now are behind me, and only the good remains: the love of my family and friends. And when I look out to the world from this height, all I see is great beauty,” Simon said. “I don’t think of death – there is no such thing in my mind or my heart. I feel that I’m going to be living forever.”

You can find a serialization of “I Am Still Here” online at San Diego Jewish World, or find her book at online retailers or on the shelves of most San Diego libraries.

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