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Muriel Synder is 96 years old and she thinks anyone who’s made it that far has mighty good reason to celebrate.

Synder volunteers at Napa nonprofit Molly’s Angels. She’s part of the telephone reassurance program, where she and others make weekly check-in calls to seniors.

From those calls, Synder said she began to realize how many of those seniors were also in their 90s.

“I said, ‘We should do something to honor them.’”

And the “Mighty Nineties” club was born.

On Wednesday a group of seven such 90-somethings gathered, along with several Molly’s Angels board members, staff and other supporters, for an inaugural luncheon to celebrate those tenth decade milestones.

Synder said one of the best parts of the outing was meeting some of the seniors she calls to check on week after week.

“I was hoping to see you today,” Ruth Ashler said to Synder, as the two clasped hands.

Synder has been calling Ashler regularly for some time now, but it was the first time the two had met face-to-face.

Getting acquainted on the phone is nice but “It’s good to meet in person,” Ashler, age 99, said.

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day having been recently commemorated, the two briefly reminisced about what they were doing as young adults during World War II.

Ashler recalled how she worked for the Navy in a snack shop in a warehouse in San Francisco. “That was fun,” she said.

“Did you go to the USO?” Synder asked her. “Oh, we loved that.”

No, said Ashler. “I never learned to dance.” But all of her boyfriends at the time were servicemen.

“I think the whole idea of Molly’s Angels is wonderful,” said Ashler. “There were times when I couldn’t get to doctor appointments.” Now she gets a ride from Molly’s Angels volunteers.

There’s no secret to living to 90 years and beyond, said Ashler.

“It just happens,” said Ashler. The only downside is that “you lose friends, you lose relatives.”

When Ann Smith, who will be 94 on Sept. 8, was asked why she came to the luncheon, she replied: “Oh honey, anything to do with Molly’s Angels.”

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“Molly’s Angels is one of the most wonderful organizations,” said Smith. “Everybody is friendly and helpful,” she said. The annual Christmas party, “is like old home week, you see so many people you know.”

Her advice for living to 90 and beyond included the following: “Don’t worry, be happy, tell jokes and laugh. And never say ‘I can’t.’ Say ‘I’ll try.’”

Lois Norman, 92, said she joined the Mighty Nineties luncheon because “I thought it’d be great to meet everybody. I love to do stuff like this.”

Norman said she relies on Molly’s Angels for transportation after “I wrecked my car and I can’t drive anymore.”

What’s the secret to living into your 90s?

“Good nutrition and taking care of yourself,” said Norman. In addition, “I do a lot of reading and puzzles. I just stay active, that’s the main thing.”

Norman still lives independently and does her own cooking and housecleaning.

“So far, so good,” she said.

Julia Orr is the new executive director at Molly’s Angels, having joined the nonprofit in March.

After Synder proposed the Mighty Nineties lunch idea, “I just felt it was a really lovely thing to do,” Orr said. “We need to celebrate our seniors.”

Molly’s Angels board members hosted the event, meaning the seniors did not have to pay for their meals.

“These kinds of interactions are so important” to prevent seniors from becoming too lonely or isolated, said Molly’s Angels board member Diana Hartford. Getting out and socializing is “a big deal” for this age group, she added.

The group met at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the Hop Creek Pub in Browns Valley. After pushing their walkers to the side, the 90-somethings sat down to a specially printed menu featuring Cobb salad, battered cod, “granny’s homestyle” mac & cheese, chicken tortilla soup and salad and beverages of their choice.

Several 90-somethings were invited, but could not attend due to health issues, said Synder.

Molly’s Angels, founded by Molly Banz in 1999, now has more than 500 clients and about 60 volunteers, said Orr.

“We’re always happy to accept more.”

This story has been modified since first posting to correct the decade that people in their 90s have achieved. 

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.