What is 100-year-old Nena Oreta’s longevity secret?

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2013 - 12:00am

It’s not every day that one gets invited to a celebration Honoring a 100-year old grand lady. But that’s exactly what the invitation said about Doña Marcelina “Nena” Alejo Oreta turning a century old on Aug. 9, 2013.

It was even more surprising when we finally met the celebrator, Doña Nena, who, during the party held at The Tents of Alphaland Southgate Towers, read her speech without glasses because emcee and grandson Quinto Oreta said, “Lola has 20/20 vision.”  To which his co-emcee, Doña Nena’s granddaughter Camille Oreta Yap, added, “She also does her own texting, she sings, and she dances.”

But what truly amazed us was when the party hosts, son Mario or “Babes” and his wife Babot (the former Ma. Luz Aspiras), revealed to us, “She has no dietary restrictions. She loves eating steak. At Sugi, she also enjoys her sukiyaki and tempura.” And contrary to modern-day health gurus’ advice to us mortals if we must live beyond 80, Doña Nena does not eat vegetables and fish.  So, how’s that for a reverse health-and-wellness dictum?

Doña Nena, in a conversation, told us she has no longevity secret. In her birthday speech, though, she told her well-wishers, “You and especially my children and grandchildren are the reasons for my long and happy life.” We later found out that each morning, she talks with her sons, lawyer Babes, president of Alphaland Corporation, and Dr. Jose Jr. or Pepito, a surgeon at the St. Luke’s Hospital who, like his mom, loves to sing.  

“Araw-araw, kahit pa busy pa sila, tinatawagan ko sila,” said Doña Nena, who used to live in her Avalon Condominum residence with her personal assistant and companion for 50 years, Chayong Tajonera. After she briefly got sick last December, when her family thought she was going to pass on, she transferred to son Pepito’s house in New Manila.   

A native of Nueva Ecija, she was already a teacher when she met her future husband, lawyer Jose Francisco Oreta, who was 17 years her senior. Doña Nena left her profession after she gave birth to her oldest son, Pepito. She then began selling clothes, handbags and accessories on the ground floor of their Malabon home.   She later operated a boutique on the second floor of the State Building on Rizal Avenue where her husband and his partner, Don Vicente Rufino, maintained their law office. On the side, she engaged in rice and charcoal trading.  As her husband earned a meager income as a public servant, it was Doña Nena who contributed significantly to the family’s resources, allowing her to take her sons to various parts of the world during their school breaks.           

When her husband, Jose Sr., passed away in 1970, he was a Justice of the Peace in Caloocan City.  Strong-willed, she continued her entrepreneurial pursuits. Up to the 1990s, Doña Nena sold jewelry to her dancing friends and Malabon-made patis to her condominium neighbors.  In 2012, a sad interlude in her life happened when her second son, former Malabon Mayor and Metro Manila Development Authority chair Propsero or “Peng,” passed away.   After a period of mourning, she recovered and resumed her fulfilling life.         

Living the good life through the years, she traveled abroad with friends especially Chiching Tuason, became president of the Smiles Club and at 70, took voice lessons under maestra Mercedes Matias Santiago and soon participated in concerts at the CCP, Philamlife Auditorium and the Paco Park.  She regularly attends the ballroom dance sessions of the Sparklers Club of which she is long-time member.  For raising very successful sons, she received the Gintong Ina and Ulirang Ina awards. 

According to long-time companion Chayong, who received a special “loyalty” gift from the family during the party, Doña Nena plays mahjong on days she is not dancing. Friends and relatives attribute her continuing outstanding mental health to this game which requires strategic thinking and alertness, while keeping the players in touch with their numerical skills. 

Among the special guests during Doña Nena’s centennial celebration were Vice President Jejomar Binay and wife Dr. Elenita, Makati Mayor Jun-Jun Binay, Alex and Marixi Prieto, balae Amparo Aspiras, her Sparklers and Smiles friends led by Pinang Saldaña, Charing Villar and Ester Vibal, Trina Yujuico-Kalaw, Alex Sison and the Antolin Oreta branch of the family, among them Mayor Len Oreta and Tessie Aquino Oreta. Helping Babes and Babot entertain guests were Doña Nena’s two other daughters-in-law, Pepito’s wife, Dr.Concepcion “Ching” Ilao and Peng’s widow, Terresita “Chita” Monroy.

Doña Nena’s youngest sister, Anita Alejo Villafuerte, spoke of “the same things that ate and I share: music, dancing, romantic movies and novels, theaters, smart clothes and the like. My friends are her friends, and mind you, my enemies are her enemies, too. We are abreast with the latest news, gossip or whatever is happening around us. We would talk over the phone lengthily not to mention exchanging text messages too. I consider her sons Pepito, Peng and Babes as my younger brothers. Her sons, like their mother, have built a life worth emulating through their profession, perseverance, entrepreneurial genius, rapport with people and excellent family and financial management.”

Eldest granddaughter, Marijo Rolle, talked about “Lola Nena looking for a date for me among her friends’ grandsons, and I agreed to go only if she accompanied us…a generous grandmother, she has not only showered us with gifts including jewelry, but given us valuable advice we will always cherish.” Son Babes thanked the guests, relatives and friends, “who have been with us through the years and who share with us the joy of celebrating Mommy’s 100th birthday,” while acknowledging his wife Babot’s special role “in making this celebration possible. All I did was come to the party tonight.”

Vice President Binay, whose friendship with the family goes back to his law school days with Babes, led the toast in honor of Doña Nena, stressing, “We could all learn from Doña Nena on how to live a fulfilling long life and be physically strong and mentally alert in one’s senior years.” He explained that the City Government of Makati, of which he was the chief executive for the longest time, considers senior citizens very special for the wisdom they could share with the younger members of society. He then called on his son, current Makati City Mayor Jun-Jun Binay, to hand the celebrator the city’s special cash gift.              

Fr. Mario Sobrejuanite celebrated the Mass and gave special blessings to Doña Nena, her family, friends and everyone present.

On hand to entertain the guests were tenor Lemuel dela Cruz who sang Ernani Cuenco’s Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal, Jun Polistico who rendered a 1950s-1960s medley of The Platters, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Anita Bryant and Beatles songs, and Pilita Corrales who sang everyone’s all-time favorite, A Million Thanks To You, with First Lady Elenita Binay leading the applause for the chanteuse recognized as Asia’s Queen of Songs.  Dr. Pepito sang, too, but the most applauded performer was Doña Nena herself with her stirring interpretation of Dahil Sa Iyo and Tangi Kong Pag-Ibig.

So there: sing, dance Tango Argentina, play mahjong, text friends and family, have a lot of steak and Japanese food, and always be there for your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, if you want to be healthy, mentally alert and alive up to 100 and beyond.  And if it’s not too late, take up a sport.  Doña Nena, we forgot to say, was a national badminton player in her younger days.

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For feedback, write to cyber.proust@yahoo.com.





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