At 107, his life focuses on her

Published December 14, 2006

SUN CITY CENTER - Harry Landis gets up an hour before his wife each morning to make sure her medicine is ready. Eleanor is 99 and suffers from dementia.

Harry turned 107 on Tuesday. To him, his birthday was no different than any other day.

No cake. No candles. Just another day with Eleanor, his wife of 30 years.

"She's a wonderful person," Landis says, his blue eyes watery behind red-rimmed glasses. Their relationship means everything to him.

They share a small apartment in an assisted living facility.

Several times a week, a private companion, Donna Riley, comes to their second-floor apartment and helps them with everyday chores.

"I'm only there four hours a day," Riley said. "The rest of the time, he takes care of her. I think she's what keeps him going, honestly."

She said she's never seen a man pamper or worry about a woman so much.

Landis has a little trouble hearing, and his vision isn't what it used to be.

He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, but his mind is quick and his memory is good.

Landis credits his longevity to a "strong resistance to disease."

Born in 1899 in Marion County, Mo., he enlisted in the Army during World War I, but the fighting ended before he saw combat. He taught school for three years but spent most of his working life as a department store manager.

Most of his friends and family died many years ago.

"I probably don't have much company," he says of his age. "I had some real good friends, but you just have to get on with it."

Eleanor is all he has left. The child of missionaries, she grew up in India.

When he talks about their first date, his bushy eyebrows arch slightly and one can make out the hint of a smile.

It was the 1970s, and each had been widowed. He took her to a restaurant in Dayton, Ohio.

Thirty years later, he helps her get dressed and gives her massages, and often fills in the thoughts that escape her fragile mind.

Eleanor has two daughters, ages 79 and 74, from her previous marriage. Though they don't live in Florida, they visit regularly, and Eleanor loves to reminisce with them.

But on most days, the Landises continue their routine: They have cereal. Harry takes a nap. Eleanor reads the newspaper.

And for Harry, it's just another day, much as it has been for so long.

So how, he's asked, does it feel to be 107?

He chuckled.

"The same as it feels to be 105."

Erika Vidal can be reached at evidal@sptimes.com or 813 226-3339.