Joe Darer turns 100 on Dec. 23 and is already planning a big birthday bash. He has much to celebrate — becoming a centenarian, his 75-year marriage, two children, four grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and a whole lot of friends.
His circle of friends, large to begin with, grows every time he performs at weekly harmonica concerts at Traditions, the West Palm Beach assisted living center where lives.
A self-taught harmonica player, Darer has been playing since he was a child and saved 50 cents to buy his first harmonica. He has a drawerful now, he said. The smallest is only an inch long, and he keeps it in his pocket.
He can play pretty much anything, but he typically sticks to romantic favorites like “My Funny Valentine”, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” As he plays, smiles appear and people sing along.
“I spread sunshine,” says Darer, whose optimism is contagious. He is quite the dancer, as well, and was even filmed for a YouTube video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=HavdeQDsLdI) at a recent party at Traditions. (He has a harmonica YouTube video, too — www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsWm-NWkY74).
Until last year, Darer and his wife, Betty, lived at Century Village in Boca Raton. They were among the first residents there in 1979. He was active in theatrical shows there and even performed on stage with comedian Red Buttons, an early spokesman for the large retirement community.
Darer’s daughter, Ann Harris, says her dad, a regular blood donor for many years, always made an effort to be helpful.
“He would knock on doors before going to the grocery store to see if anyone needed anything, and he often drove people to the airport. People loved him.”
For decades, Darer had been caring for his wife, who has lost her vision and uses a wheelchair. But the couple needed help after he fell and broke his pelvis. He healed just fine, he says, but now carries a cane — although he insists he doesn’t really need it.
“I promised my wife I would use it,” he says. She lives in MorseLife, a long-term senior care facility on the same campus as Tradition, and he walks over to spend every day with her.
The couple met on the beach in Coney Island when he was 15 and she was 11.
“She was so beautiful with her blue eyes and long blonde hair,” he says. “She still is.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., as one of five children. Darer was 9 when his father died. He left school early in high school to take a job to help support the family. He worked in the dry cleaning business for three decades and had a route delivering to customers who became friends.
“He was invited to so many weddings and bar mitzvahs,” his daughter, who lives in Boynton Beach, said. She visits her parents every day and on Saturdays accompanies her father to synagogue.
His faith helps him, he says, as does his longtime marriage to Betty. That, and playing the harmonica.
“I feel so good when I play,” he says.
And everyone who hears him play does, too.
What are your hobbies?
Playing harmonica, dancing and reading.
Who would you like to have dinner with?
Bill and Hillary Clinton.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Running on the beach with girlfriend, the one and only love of my life.
What event in history would you have liked to witness?
When Moses came down the mountain with the 10 Commandments. I would have welcomed him.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I read. I like adventure books.