Vroom! Vroom! Donor gives 105-year-old volunteer a new car

Edythe Kirchmaier is used to helping others in need. Since the 1970s, she has volunteered with her favorite charity, Direct Relief, writing thank you notes to supporters of the medical aid organization. And when she turned 105, Kirchmaier used the momentous occasion to raise awareness of Direct Relief on her Facebook page.

Now, an anonymous donor has given the Santa Barbara, Calif., resident an incredible gift: a new Honda to replace her aging 1997 minivan. That’s right — at 105 years old, Kirchmaier is still behind the wheel.

Even more impressive is the fact that, according to Kirchmaier, she’s never received a ticket or been in an accident. Appearing earlier this year on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Kirchmaier said she'd just passed her driver's license test and was apparently the oldest driver in California. She started out in a Model-T car 86 years ago.

At 102, she changes oil, spark plugs on her 82-year-old car

Kirchmaier’s old minivan had seen better days. "I hung onto it as long as I could,” she told TODAY. She is grateful for the new car, which has a designated spot in the Direct Relief International parking lot. "It's like a second home,” she said of the non-profit. “Everyone is so great here."

It’s likely that those at the organization feels the same way about Kirchmaier. She took it upon herself to drum up awareness of the charity's cause by asking for 150,000 “likes” of its Facebook page as a birthday wish. 

Direct Relief now has 124,000 likes, and Kirchmaier has more than 36,000 followers, a remarkable feat for one of the oldest members of the social media network. Many of those who post on her page call her an “inspiration.”

But for Kirchmaier, all the attention has been surprising. 

"It's overwhelming," she said. "I never thought I'd make that much of an impression on people."

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Edith McAllister in swimming pool

    Aging across America: Vigorous, vital and full of life

    A geriatric specialist is using photography to challenge stereotypes and show people thriving as they journey into old age.

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    Racing onward -

    Aging ain’t necessarily what it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Dr. Jeffrey Levine, a New York-based geriatric specialist and professional photographer who has spent the past two decades documenting what he describes as “the biggest demographic transformation in human history”: a time when more people than ever are reaching very old ages. Levine's “Aging Across America” photography exhibit is on display at the National Arts Club in New York City through Sept. 21.

    Levine captured this photo at an “over 70” running race on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in 2010. Several of the runners pictured here are more than 90 years old. Levine described the woman wearing the No. 337 bib as a “geriatric super athlete” who, at the age of 90, climbed 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building in just 22 minutes.

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Doing swimmingly -

    Levine described Edith McAllister, pictured here, as one of the most amazing people he's ever met. “She loves swimming and water-skied into her 90s," he said. “I photographed her in her daily exercise at the pool.”

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Jamming for decades -

    “I like to challenge stereotypes and show how people can thrive both physically and spiritually as they journey into old age,” said Levine, who took this photo of saxophone player and pennywhistle soloist Les Lieber in 2010. For nearly 50 years, Lieber performed every Friday at the Jazz at Noon jam sessions he founded in New York. He was in his 90s when Levine photographed him.

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Laughter is great medicine -

    “Gladys and Elaine are friends since high school,” Levine said. “Every Sunday they meet at a coffee shop in South Harbor, Maine and catch up on gossip.”

    Copyright 2009, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Hip and happy -

    After spending her life working as a makeup artist, this woman started working in a costume shop in Las Vegas, where Levine met up with her in 2010. “I was impressed by the way she did her eyes, so I took her picture,” Levine said.

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Fire in the belly -

    Gibsonton, Fla., is known as the wintering grounds for circus workers, many of whom are growing old. Levine traveled to Gibsonton and captured this photo of a circus performer known as Mr. Poobah, who has spent his career performing a fire-eating act. Levine noted that he “has few hairs left on his face.”

    Copyright 2009, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Focused and calm -

    Levine took this photo at a tai chi class at a senior center in Queens, N.Y., that is popular with Asian-Americans. “Abe, the teacher, was a patient of mine who invited me to visit,” Levine said.

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Just married -

    Ralph and Dick, pictured here, had been together for more than 40 years before they legally wed in New York state. “I photographed them in their backyard in upstate New York,” Levine said.

    Copyright 2012, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Granny Peace Brigade -

    The Raging Grannies is an international group of activists who use street theater, humor, satire and props as they demonstrate about issues tied to social justice. Levine photographed them marching in New York's Times Square in 2010.

    Copyright 2010, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Proud and strong -

    J.T. Freeman, left, is one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. Pictured with him is an admiring friend who served in the Marines in Vietnam.

    Copyright 2009, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Meet the Hub Club -

    In California’s Bay Area, the city of Fremont is home to a large population of Indian and Pakistani immigrants. “A group of elders meets every Saturday at a shopping mall called the Fremont Hub, and call themselves the Hub Club,” Levine said.

    Copyright 2011, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    A rich ancestry -

    Brandon Williams is a Native American from the Navajo tribe who paints visions of his ancestors. He is pictured here with his painting of his great-grandfather, Standing Horse. Levine photographed Williams at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico in 2012.

    Copyright 2012, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    Roaring engines -

    These days, it’s quite common to see die-hard bikers in their 70s and 80s at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. “Hope, passion and something to look forward to – including next year’s Sturgis – is something that keeps people alive,” Levine noted.

    Copyright 2011, Jeffrey M. Levine
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    A love of medicine and art -

    As a doctor specializing in geriatric medicine, Levine sees patients at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and serves on the faculty at Albert Einstein Medical Center. He’s also traveled the world over documenting aging in various cultures. “As a geriatrician I am aware of our common human destiny of growing old and the need for a view of aging that inspires and teaches,” Levine said.

    To see more images from Levine’s “Aging Across America” portfolio and other photography projects, click here. To learn more about his New York exhibit, click here.

    Courtesy Jeffrey M. Levine
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