ROCK HILL — May Williams wasn’t happy with her bowling score. She couldn’t even make her age. Maybe it was because of the hubbub around her 102nd birthday party.
“I’m doing terrible today, but I’m not going to worry,” Williams said. “I think I have plenty of games left.”
Williams makes it to the bowling alley at Strikers in Rock Hill three times a week. The league she bowls in threw her a party Wednesday. Surrounded by about a dozen of her friends, all dressed up, just like Williams, she was the only one with a tiara on her head.
So what’s the longevity secret of the oldest resident at Westminster Towers senior living community who takes no medication, dances in heels for the center’s Dance Fever team, climbs the steps to her second floor apartment while her friends wait for the elevator and can grip your hand so hard it hurts?
“The Lord just hasn’t taken me yet,” Williams said, using her standard answer for the question that she is asked nearly every day. Then she smiles and gets serious: “I stay active. I do things. I’m happy and I have a lot of friends. I think everybody likes me anyway.”
Her score sheets at Strikers show an average of 116, 118 and 120 in her three leagues. She bowled a 176 a few weeks ago. On Wednesday, she followed just about every roll of the ball with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Her only real physical complaint is poor eyesight. She can’t see the pins well, so she goes by the markings on the front of the lane. One of her teammates tells her which pins are left standing for her second toss.
Williams was born in Greensboro, N.C., on April 19, 1911, when William Howard Taft was president. She married when she was 18, but her husband died a short time later in a railroad accident.
She met her second husband during World War II: She went out to dinner with a man the day before he headed overseas. He wrote her every day, ending his letters by asking her to marry him. She wasn’t ready. After the war, she met his family in California. She leans over to tell the story, her hand over the side of her face.
“I was walking on the other side of the room and I heard him say, ‘hasn’t she got the cutest little butt you ever saw?’ Honey, I could have gone through the floor. I told his sister, he’s just too crude. But she said he was just nervous. I gave him another chance.”
She ended up being glad she did.
“I could have looked all over the world and I wouldn’t have found a better husband,” she said with her radiant smile.
He wasn’t happy when she took up bowling in 1970 after the couple sold their grocery store and retired. He thought bowling alleys were places people gathered to drink or gamble. But she liked it, so he accepted it.
Williams moved into Westminster Towers after he died five years ago.
Williams has rarely been sick – she had a tumor removed from her lung when she was 70 that led her to go from bowling with a 12-pound ball to a 10-pound ball.
But bowling isn’t the only thing Williams does to stay active. While her 91-year-old neighbor Evelyn French takes the elevator to the apartment on the second floor, Williams takes the stairs every time.
“There’s nobody like her,” French said. “There’s a saying around here – if you ask someone how they are doing, you better get ready for an organ recital. Not May.”
French is also by Williams’ side when the Westminster Towers Dance Fever team performs. Williams is the must see dancer for the hula or the salsa. “She has got some hip action going on,” said Amy Laughlin, Westminster Towers’ director of life enrichment.
“She never complains about anything. She never has a down day. She refuses to accept she is 102,” Laughlin said.
Williams helped bring down the house last year when the Dance Fever team did their “dancing through the decades” performance. Williams enjoyed most of it too, from the songs of the World War II-era Andrews Sisters to the Bee Gees’ disco boogie and the 1980s pop music from Katrina and the Waves.
But there was one dance this 102-year-old lady who refuses to consider herself old didn’t like.
“I never did care much for the Charleston,” she said.