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The Secrets of a Centenarian

The Yolo County Health Building named for Dr. Bauer opened in 2006

You’ve got to admit it, centenarians know how to party.

When Dr. Herbert Bauer, former Yolo County Health Director, celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this year, the room was crawling with friends, family, medievally-clad madrigal singers, and even a gang of fiddle-playing crustaceans.

The Davis Art Center swelled with excitement as the community came together to recognize one amazing man.

“Herbert has been the greatest role model for aging of anyone I’ve ever known,” says Bauer’s long-time friend Nancy Keltner.  “And I’m not alone. Wherever there is a discussion in Davis of aging or how long people expect or wish to live, someone always adds that they would be willing to live a very long time if they could age like Herbert, and all the heads in the group of the people who know him nod in agreement.”

Dr. Herbert Bauer

What are the secrets to create such a fulfilling life? Over the course of the last hundred years, Bauer has whittled it down to three principles, three rules to live by.

“I live by my three commandments,” says Bauer. “Try to put purpose into your life. It helps to have someone to love. And, maintain a certain amount of humor.”

One way he seems to find purpose in his days is through his life-long love of learning. At age 61, when many people might begin daydreaming of an easy retirement, hanging around the house, or brushing up on the old shuffleboard skills, Bauer retired from his position at the County and went back to school to earn a child psychology certificate from UC Davis.  Inspired, as always, to help people.

“He has a tremendous intellectual curiosity,” says Keltner. “He is passionate and knowledgeable about opera and classical music, reads books and magazines voraciously and eclectically, and stays on top of local, national, and international politics.”

And even at 100, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down: “I wake up with a purpose,” says Bauer. “It’s good to know what you’re waking up for.”

When asked about his advice on love, he quipped: “My advice is to not give advice. Advice is for the birds.”

Still, it is hard keep one’s heart from swelling a little, when Bauer talks about meeting his wife Hannah, who passed away in 2002.

“I have never known any man who was more devoted to his wife than Herbert was, and still is in his way, devoted to Hannah,” says Judy Gabor. “Herbert Bauer accepts everyone as they are and where they are. He is extraordinarily ecumenical, interested in everyone and everything.”

“[Hannah’s] mother invited me for dinner and I liked what she cooked and I liked her daughter so I stayed,” jokes Bauer, “for sixty-four years.”

“Being human, you need somebody or something to love,” says Bauer. “You need compassion, you need someone to love. If you are alone, you may have to transfer your compassion to something else, like music.”

Keltner describes how Bauer has lived this commandment of loving throughout his life: “His lifetime emphasis has been on caring for others, and saving others. Whether it was finding jobs for people in order to get them out of Nazi occupied countries, immunizing the children of the county against polio through his role in public health, or helping children through the court system as a child psychiatrist.

“He never refused a patient and has cared for those who couldn’t pay. He has been active (and was a founding member) of Amnesty International and the local U.N. He is loved and revered, although he would not approve of being revered,” jokes Keltner.

In addition to the love, Bauer also brings on the laughter, another of his rules to live by.  “I try to maintain a certain level of humor,” says Bauer. “There is enough sadness in the world.”

“His sense of humor is legend,” says Keltner. “And although he claimed on his 95th birthday that his secret to long life was just to laugh, love, and one day wake up and find yourself 95, the truth is that he is very tuned in to healthy living, physically and emotionally.”

If the tranquil atmosphere of Bauer’s home is any indication of his overall health, where books nestle into corners on wooden shelves, paintings enliven the walls, and sunlight streams quietly through the windows, it is easy to see that this is a home where love lingers, just inside the screen door.

And Bauer’s mantra:  “Keep living. Keep loving. And if you can, keep laughing,” seems to whisper to you, like the mahogany-hued petals that flutter soundlessly onto the grass outside his front door.

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