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‘Spunky’ 108-year-old celebrates birthday in Ballston

Vera Punke moved to Arlington at the ripe old age of 95 to be closer to her daughter. That was 13 years ago.

Punke, who turned 108 on Tuesday, has lived through 19 presidential administrations.

She was honored by the county for becoming a centenarian during the Obama administration. Her first grandson married during the Clinton administration, five years after she married her late fourth husband, Chester Punke.

Wilson Blvd, which can be seen from her home at The Jefferson in Ballston, was named after the president who was in office when she was born.

A first-generation Italian who is described — accurately — as a “spunky lady” by staff at The Jefferson, Punke proudly dresses “to the nines,” owns more than 40 pairs of shoes, and has all the social energy of someone a fifth of her age.

Punke was delighted by the packed house and the line of well-wishers at her birthday celebration Wednesday afternoon. Among those in attendance were elected officials like Del. Patrick Hope and Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, as well as multiple TV stations and other members of the media.

Poster board displays around the event space at The Jefferson recounted key moments in Punke’s life and U.S. history from the 1910s to today. Flapper dresses adorned a few Jefferson staff members in honor of Punke’s childhood and adolescence during the Roaring 20s, a century ago.

Inevitably, she was asked about her secret to longevity.

“My secret is to look ahead,” she told gathered reporters. “Because if you look back, you’ll think of all the bad things.”

“Also I was a good organizer getting people together — when you do that and think of other people, you forget your problems,” she added.

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