Anyone who's lived over 100 years is sure to have a few tips and tricks for staying healthy, and Lucia DeClerck is no different. The 105-year-old credits a mix of gin-soaked raisins, prayer and no junk food for her longevity, and it seems to have worked pretty well for her so far.
After living through the Spanish flu outbreak as a toddler, the centenarian recently managed to beat COVID-19 after being diagnosed with the virus on her 105th birthday last month. It was a pretty unwelcome birthday present, but DeClerck was lucky to have a very mild case.
"I didn't know I had it," she told TODAY Food over video chat. "I feel very good now."
DeClerck, who lives at Mystic Meadows Rehab and Nursing Center in Little Egg Harbor, NJ, has become somewhat of a celebrity since kicking COVID-19, but she still doesn't quite understand what all the fuss is about.
"Oh my goodness, I'm flabbergasted because I've never had that much attention," she said.
Still, the centenarian should be used to the love. After all, she's got a huge fan club that includes six grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and 11 great-great grandchildren, and the entire staff at Mystic Meadows, who playfully fight over who gets to take care of her.
DeClerck has experienced a lot during her life — two World Wars, three marriages and case of heart failure, for starters — and she says her religious faith has seen her through it all. The New Jersey resident runs a weekly prayer service at Mystic Meadows and always has her rosary beads on hand.
"I try to be good to God and he's very good to me," she explained.
Healthy eating habits have also kept this spunky lady thriving. Case in point? When asked what her favorite cheat foods are, DeClerck couldn't come up with an answer. The 105-year-old swore off junk food a long time ago but will indulge in a small treat on her birthday.
"They cut the cupcake in half for me," she said.
Now, what about those gin-soaked raisins? The centenarian has been eating this unique treat for years ("Not more than 50 years," she says) and still dips them herself daily. Shawn Laws O'Neil, one of DeClerck's granddaughters, said her grandmother has tried many old wives' tales and health tricks over the years.
"It's something she's always done. She used to drink a homemade aloe juice concoction, but I don't how it even started," the 53-year-old told TODAY over the phone.
When asked if she still indulges in the secret drink, DeClerck said "not anymore."
DeClerck grew up in Hawaii and also lived in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada before moving to California, where she got married and had three sons. In 1963, she returned to Honolulu and lived there for 31 years while working as a personal home care aide.
In 1994, she made her way to New Jersey, where her eldest son and his family were located, and lived on her own for quite some time in the '90s. Four years ago, at the age of 101, DeClerck moved to Mystic Meadows, and she's made quite the impact on the facility's staff. LNHA administrator Michael Neiman told TODAY he tends to call her "St. Lucia" and said before the pandemic hit, most visitors would visit DeClerck on the way to seeing their own family members.
"They all would stop in her room just to get her blessing, just to say hello to her. And she always has something nice to say to everyone," he said. "We were lucky to have Lucia move in with us. We feel the building has been blessed with her in it."
Now that she's fully recovered from COVID-19 and has had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, DeClerck is looking forward to a belated birthday celebration with her family when it's safe to gather everyone together.
In the meantime, Laws O'Neil is thrilled to see that her grandmother is so beloved by her fellow residents at Mystic Meadows and can't wait to give her a big hug soon.
"She's always supported other people, so I think that's coming back to her tenfold," she said.