Martha Munster, 103, enjoyed her first prom experience ever on Thursday night at Brandywine Living in South Brunswick.
She had not one, but two escorts — Princeton University students Harrison Waldon and Adam Rosenstein.
“They’re doing a great job,” she said as she looked at her companions and laughed.
Munster was one of nine centenarians who attended the “Puttin on the Ritz” senior prom. The centenarians were joined by 15 Brandywine “junior” residents in their 90s and about three dozen Princeton University students, most of them from the class of 2016.
“What’s more perfect than having seniors celebrating at this senior prom? said Justin Ziegler, class president.
So many students wanted to attend the centenarian celebration that all the spots filled up quickly. “When I learned about it, I just couldn’t pass it up,” Waldon said.
Munster told Waldon and Rosenstein stories about her childhood and her family. She recalled life growing up on a farm in Germany plowing the fields and picking corn. “It was very hard work,” she said.
She raised three children with her husband, Arthur. Together they built their own business, the Hoyer Munster Nursery in Penns Neck. Munster enjoyed growing her favorite flower, roses, at their home and at the nursery. During World War II, she and her husband grew 14 acres of tomatoes for the Campbell Soup Company.
Munster missed out on the American prom ritual when she was a teen because she didn’t come to the United States until she was 21, in 1934.
“I met my husband at a dance though,” she said. “He saw me across the room and told his friends he wanted to dance with me.”
She and the other prom-goers sported corsages and boutonnieres, posed for photos, drank punch, ate dinner and dessert, listened to live music, including a cappella from the Princeton Katzenjammers, and yes, a few of them even danced for a few minutes.
“This is great,” said Elverna VanDyke, who grew up in Atlantic City. “I love dancing. I danced all the time. I used to teach line dancing.”
Asked how old she was, she paused for a moment and said 100. “No wait, 101,” she said.
Her escort, Princeton senior Alan Hatfield, said it was great being around people seniors and hearing their words of wisdom.
“It’s refreshing to get a break from the campus too,” he said.
Helen Turner, 109, couldn’t make it to the prom, but joined the party via video. It was her recent birthday celebration that made staff members wonder how many centenarians live at Brandywine Living senior residences. They discovered that there were more than 50 residents spread throughout five states who are over 100 years old. Then they decided it would be fun to hold an event like a prom to honor them, and staff member Stephanie Gaber made it happen.
Turner apologized in her video for not making the party in person. “I couldn’t be there because I’m still recovering from my birthday party,” she said. “I’m a little tired.”
Many of the centenarians at the prom attributed their longevity to clean living and staying active. Some still sing in choirs. Others do Tai Chi. And some residents like former Princeton Township Mayor Jim Floyd, 94, still serve on nonprofit boards.
“I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, and I didn’t overeat,” Munster said. “And I always stayed busy.”
The prom lasted a few hours. Near the end of the evening, staff members and relatives packed the room to see who would be crowned prom king and queen.
Everyone cheered as Phil Yanich was named king and Munster was named queen.
Staff members had to go and find Yanich, who had left the room. Munster was still taking with her new friends. Both were presented with crowns and sashes, and Munster was given a bouquet of flowers.
“Do you have anything you want to say?” a staff member asked the king and queen.
“Thank you!” said Munster.
Yanich smiled and waved.
He was ready to go home, but Munster headed back to her table. There was still time left to celebrate.