Words don’t come out of Vivian Bell’s mouth the way they used to.
She chooses her words carefully, and whispers them slowly in a quiet, high-pitched voice. Seven days shy of her 100th birthday, it’s not as easy as it once was for Ms. V to speak.
Ask her to sing, though, and she does that with ease. That much was made clear to the 150 friends, family and neighbors who attended her birthday party Sunday at Living Water Full Gospel Church on Shade Tree Lane.
“She’s the happiest person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Ms. Bell’s great-grandson, Ty Wilson, 25, of Wyandanch. “She has the energy of a much younger person.”
She proved it on Sunday.
At several points during the celebration of her life, Ms. Bell got up off her chair to sing and dance to the gospel music along with the rest of the crowd. At one point she even grabbed Riverhead Town Councilman John Dunleavy for a slow dance to her favorite song, “White Christmas,” as sung to her by Living Water head pastor George Dupree.
Ms. Bell’s energy was something her great-grandson said he had a hard time explaining to friends growing up. He’d be called a liar, he says, when as a 5-year-old he’d tell his friends he had an 80-year-old great-grandmother who could still do a cartwheel.
“My friends would just shake their heads when I told them that,” Mr. Wilson said with a smile. “Or when I told them I was out shooting free throws with my great-grandma when she was 85.”
Mr. Wilson was joined at the party by two cousins and his grandmother, Cathy Smith, one of Ms. Bell’s two children.
“I’m just so excited God allowed her to remain on this earth this long,” Ms. Smith said of her mother.
Ms. Bell, who was born on Aug. 5, 1912 in East Orange, N.J., moved to Riverhead around 1948, her daughter said. She lived just two blocks east of the church on Bell Avenue, a road that was named for her husband, a deacon.
About a year ago, as she became a little less independent, she moved in with her daughter in Wyandanch. But it was as if she never left when she returned to Riverhead Sunday to celebrate with friends who will always remember her as the lively Ms. V.
“When she was 98 years old, she was still tearing up the dance floor at the senior center,” said Mr. Dunleavy, who joined fellow Town Council member Jodi Giglio in presenting Ms. Bell with a proclamation declaring today Vivian Bell Day in Riverhead. Mr. Dunleavy said Ms. Bell was active in volunteering at the senior center, working with the blind and visiting hospitals.
Living Water associate pastor Rick Saladon said Ms. Bell was still performing in plays at the church not much more than a year ago, sharp enough to not only read her lines but to improvise as well.
Pastor Saladon said the church had been planning the party for Ms. Bell for nearly a full year.
Asked to say a view words to those in attendance, Ms. Bell grabbed the microphone and said, “Hello everybody. I love you all.”
When it came to musical selections for the party, Pastor Dupree knew exactly what he wanted to play. He recalled once receiving a letter from Ms. Bell that listed a handful of gospel songs she’d like played at her funeral. Each of those songs was played Sunday.
“I didn’t want to have to wait for her funeral,” the pastor said.